I got linked to your site from Huffington Post and although I’ve never cheated or been cheated on, the psychology of cheating has been fascinating for me in terms of watching a trainwreck mostly because of my personal experience as a spectator. I am hoping to share my story with you. To tell you the truth, I was a child watching my parents’ marriage disintegrate partly due to accusations of cheating and I think I have deep-seated psychological issues in terms of relationships and intimacy because of what I witnessed firsthand. There are other issues that were more related to how fucked up my parents are and were but I digress.
I agree with your basic philosophy– that no matter what the betrayed spouse did or does, it is still the cheater who is wrong. This is something I say even when the people in question are my parents. This is what I could tell based on what I witnessed, information I gathered from my sister, as well as logical deductions based on events that later happened.
My parents’ marriage was failing due to a number of factors. I really can’t pinpoint exactly what since I don’t know but the first clue we (my sister and I) had that there was something really wrong that was going on other than the usual drama was when my dad was playing back the tapes. He’d jury-rigged a tape recorder to record my mom’s phone conversations, which we could tell because we heard the touchtone of the numbers being pressed and he was fast forwarding past anything that seemed like a normal conversation and only listening closely to conversations where my mom was talking to a man. My dad was so focused on listening to the results of his evidence gathering that he hadn’t even realized that his elementary school age children were in the same room watching him listen to the results of his wiretap on our mother.
I won’t go into my dad’s psychology– needless to say, he didn’t let go and he went absolutely crazy in reaction to his suspicions of my mom’s affair. I’m not sure how he confronted my mom about her affair but we did witness the aftermath of that confrontation where she kept professing innocence and he kept reacting in anger and frustration until he ended up looking like the villain in the piece.
Looking back, it makes my mom seem even more manipulative and sociopathic because my sister told me years later that my mom had confessed that she had been with the other man and even gave a time period. What made it worse was that the fights made clear that the other man was my father’s best friend and in the long dragging drama that ensued before it culminated in a divorce that my father filed for, it was worse that my parents both started playing with us like we were game pieces in their tug of war. It was screwed up and I really wish that my dad wasn’t so fucked up that he couldn’t just let it go before doing all sorts of messed up stuff to get revenge that were clearly wrong and I really wish that my mom wasn’t so fucked up that she twisted everything in knots.
I had my mom tell me that my dad didn’t really want us when she first got pregnant (I personally think she got pregnant as an attempt to save the marriage because in her mind, that was better than divorcing), implying that he didn’t really love us, and then for her to tell us that the divorce dragged out for so long only because she stayed for us, implying she was the one that really loved us. What I took from those revelations (which really shouldn’t be told to a child you profess to love because you’re hurting them simply for your own ego) is that in a screwed up way, my sisters and I were to blame for all the misery being inflicted by the emotional fallout of the unhappy marriage, cheating drama, and reconciliation tug of war that was being played out in front of us. To be frank, I’d wished my mom could have just aborted us if it would have saved everyone from all this unhappiness and I was rooting for my mom to leave the multiple times she made a show of leaving. I remember once she had a big suitcase just center stage of the living room hallway being slowly filled with all of her stuff. I had seen her obvious misery in the marriage so to encourage her, I gave her a pack of playing cards (one of our favorite pastimes were to play cards) with a written note of “I love you” to encourage her to leave. But somehow she took that as a sign to stay so when she told us she only stayed in the marriage for so long because of us children, it just made me feel guilty that something I meant to encourage her only prolonged the unhappiness.
I will say though that the story of my parents’ marriage was really convoluted and my mother definitely victimized my father with her cheating but his response in reaction also victimized her and it was just wrong. So, to add to the pieces of advice that I’d like to give against normal convention:
1) Do not reconcile or attempt to reconcile when cheating has occurred. It means things have broken and it will never be mended.
2) Do not use the excuse of staying together for the kids. That is unfair to the kids and is blaming them for your issues. It is on you that the marriage failed, whether or not cheating did occur.
3) Just let go. In the long run, everyone would be happier. The sooner you realize it, the happier you will be. The only ones unhappy will be ineffectual and overpaid psychologists.
4) If you need to explain it to your kids, be upfront. Don’t rationalize something or editorialize. I know it’s easier said than done but I know it would’ve been so much easier for me growing up grappling with the moral implications of what I’d seen rather than coming to the conclusion any sane adult would’ve come to about my parents’ actions only after being mentally and emotionally tortured by them. Just communicate with them– neither my mom the cheater or my dad the betrayed spouse ever communicated anything so all I had to go on were what I saw and heard and that was the worst because nothing was sanitized.
5) For betrayed spouses with kids, kill off your emotions and pour all your power into your logic cells. Yes, you were wronged but don’t do things that would fuck it up even worse for yourself or for your kids.
So, that’s my story. I’m not really giving all of the details simply because that’s beyond my comfort level but I wanted to share a different perspective with you since I obviously can’t talk from the Cheater or Betrayed Spouse point of view. Thanks for taking the time to read this.