Many chumps ask after they’ve been broad-sided by infidelity — What did I do wrong? And how can I make sure this never, ever happens to me again?
Answer you don’t want to hear? Nothing.
There are a lot of charlatans out there who are more than happy to sell you the snake oil that is “affair proofing” your marriage. Please download their eBook for $10. Attend their life coaching seminar. Hey chumps, if you’d only communicate more, have sex more often (and more adventuresomely!), wear a pretty ribbon in your hair, etc. then you are Safe. A lot of the advice is subtle and not so subtle blame the victim crap. Affairs happen because you were not Meeting Their Needs, so make the marriage a Good Place to Be (cue the “pick me” dance tunes).
Unsaid is that hey, the cheater wasn’t exactly meeting your needs either, but you didn’t go out and cheat. Affairs, of course, are about a lack of character and maturity. They’re about narcissism. You know the Chump Lady drill.
But that’s not the end of the story. So we chumps get out of that mess and think… okay, I’m going to become an expert at sniffing out narcissists! I won’t be fooled again! Or you might despair… shit, my disorder-dar is faulty. I am an epic chump, I’d better batten down the hatches and stay bunkered in. Learn to live alone with cats. What’s the point of ever trusting anyone?
I am a firm believer that you can improve your picker. You can absolutely improve your odds at relationship happiness by looking for reciprocity, common values, kindness, and respect from your next partner. You can shore yourself up. Work on expecting more, communicating, creating healthy boundaries. You can stop being a codependent, spackle freak. (Please, oh please put away the spackle knife.) But if you’re doing this love thing right — you’re making yourself vulnerable. I’m sorry, there is no getting around the risk. If you want intimacy, you’re going to have to reveal your tender underbelly to another and trust they won’t harpoon it.
Anyone who can guarantee you won’t get hurt again by Doing All the Right Things is lying. I think you can mitigate some risk, but you’ll never remove it, because you don’t control other people and you don’t control outcomes.
Now, this is NOT an argument for the unicorn of reconciliation. You see that reasoning a lot — oh, better the Devil you know. Most people cheat, if I date there won’t be anyone, or everyone will suck worse than my present spouse. To which I say — bullshit. Your present spouse has already demonstrated themselves to be unfaithful. You’re investing in a stock you know is bad, hoping for a better return. Chumps — there’s accepting “life is risk,” and then there is idiocy.
My point is, if you were a faithful chump, you didn’t do anything wrong trusting your partner. That’s what love is. You commit. You jump in with both feet and take it on faith. You believe the best in someone. You support them. These qualities are not pathological and you should not chuck them just because some cheater asshole betrayed your trust.
You can no more affair-proof your life than you can calamity-proof your children. You can be the best parent you can be, you can child-proof your home, close up the outlets, seal the aspirin lids, nag your teenagers, and yet some calamity can befall them. They ignore our wisdom every day at their peril, but they usually survive. Their mistakes don’t make you a bad parent. We go forward assuming they’ll outlive us or will endure their calamities. And why do we assume these risks in parenting? Because we love.
Just because you got cheated on doesn’t make you a bad life partner. You’re stronger and wiser now. There is an upside to surviving infidelity — greater self knowledge. Knowing you can reinvent. Knowing that this didn’t kill you, it opened up a new world. So go be fearless. Risk it.