Dear Chump Lady,
I stumbled upon your site while looking for help, thought you might be able to give me some useful advice and now I’ve come to humbly ask for some. Yet I’m not quite sure my question’s welcome, or that you’d want to help me, since I can see you don’t usually publish questions from the cheater. And that’s who I am in my marriage. I’m the cheater. I’m not cheating anymore, and I’m remorseful, but I did it. And I think I might have broken my marriage.
I won’t bore you with the details of the affair because I’m pretty sure you’ve heard it all. The basic facts: less than a year into my marriage (yes, I’m that much of a piece of shit) I cheated on my husband with a guy from work. I had never cheated before. The affair lasted for about a month, then it was broken off very painfully. I had fallen hard for the OM, and had a few horrible months feeling heartbroken, guilty and sullied. During this time, adding insult to injury, I neglected my husband, and our emotional and physical intimacy took a nosedive. While my husband is not perfect, and definitely has some issues that need addressing, I take full responsibility for what happened and I know quite well that my behaviour is inexcusable, and I won’t try to explain it away. I cheated because I was immature, selfish and vain. I overestimated my self control as an excuse to continue the flirting and, after the fact, tried to drown the guilt I felt in self-serving explanations. I deserve all the pain I caused myself.
As a consequence of this whole mess, I lost attraction, started getting short-tempered and distanced myself from him and the marriage. He reacted to that by also shutting me out, neglecting the house and himself. What had once been good became a crappy, cold marriage between two people who never fought, but also barely talked; were never abusive, or even rude to each other, but also didn’t touch one another lovingly and rarely had sex. This all culminated a couple of months ago when husband sat me down to say he is unhappy and, while he loves me very much, he has no intention to continue to live like this forever, and we either fix things soon or get a divorce.
We’re now trying to fix it, and I do want to save my marriage. Even while deep in the shit, I never wanted to hurt my husband (and I know I did, very much). He doesn’t know about the affair, and I can’t stand the thought of telling him and making him hurt even worse from my shitty choices – it would feel like sacrificing him to make myself feel less guilty, and I don’t deserve not to feel guilty. I want to make things better, and get back the intimacy, the mutual admiration, the shared plans and the commitment we once had.
I’m trying, and have taken steps. I have cut all contact with the OM and got my ass in therapy to try to get my shit together and understand how I got us into this mess. I’m trying to be a better wife, and control my temper. I’m trying to spend a little more time with husband and encourage him. He’s also made some changes, and is taking better care of himself and the house. Things are, overall, a bit better.
Still, the feelings are not coming back, and I’m at a loss. It feels as if we had this thing, which was precious to both of us, and we’re both trying to fix it, him scratching his head as to why it isn’t working anymore when it used to work so well, me trying to help and fix it while shutting my mouth, filled with guilt, knowing damn well that it’s broken because I broke it. We’ve given ourselves a deadline, and when it comes we’ll sit down and see how far things will have improved, and if it is enough – or at least enough to keep trying.
Part of me desperately wants things to just go back to what they were; part of me wants only to believe that we really can get over this and come out with a much better marriage, and never ever cheat again; and part of me feels that I just don’t deserve him anymore, and that the most decent thing I can do is divorce him and allow him to find another wife who’s not a whore.
What should I do? Any help (even a smack to the head, which I fully deserve) will be greatly appreciated.
The most decent thing you can do is tell him the truth.
Things are not going to go back to the way they were. That’s a fantasy thought, like “Gee, I wish I had my 18-year-old body back.” “We can come out with a much better marriage” is just unicorn bullshit. That’s the hopium they sell over at the Reconciliation Industrial Complex. Grievous betrayal does not make for better marriages any more than bullets to your head improves your cognitive functioning.
But he doesn’t have to know! You can take this to your grave!
I’m sure there are some people who would advise that, but I’m not one of them. This isn’t some episode in your long ago past. This isn’t something that happened in another relationship. This is about NOW. You betrayed your husband just months into your first year of marriage. Your husband knows the marriage is broken too, he just doesn’t know why. YOU know why.
I argue here that cheating is based in entitlement. If you want to stop being a cheater, it’s not enough to give up the OM or do therapy. You have to stop acting entitled. You have to lead with humility. Having all the knowledge of what’s wrong is holding on to power. Let that shit go. You need to stop making unilateral decisions for other people. Let your husband decide if the marriage is worth saving. If he were writing to me, I’d tell him it isn’t.
I think you know that, which is why you’re trying to prevent that outcome by holding on to the truth. You think you’re protecting him from further harm — and yes, when he finds out, it’s going to hurt like a motherfucker — but the fact is, you’re covering your own ass. Not telling him is about you maintaining the vestiges of power. This isn’t about guilt. It’s about you not wanting to do that painful, difficult thing. Is he suffering? Well, you’ll just try to shore it all up!
That’s not sustainable. This is a terrible foundation with which to build a relationship, so please just tell him.
You need to stop lying to yourself.
You wrote: we had this thing, which was precious to both of us…
It wasn’t precious to you. That’s the truth. If it were precious to you, you wouldn’t have cheated on him. We ACT our values.
Your actions showed that you didn’t value so much that you wouldn’t indulge in some cake-eating at his expense. Apparently, he didn’t take your lack of affection and attraction to him very well — he shut down. His reaction is totally understandable under the circumstances. But then you used that shut down as further pretense to not be attracted to him. God, things have gone to shit and surprise! The feelings aren’t coming back!
Leticia, I’m sorry but you broke your marriage. The compassionate thing to do is to let this man go. As Dat eloquently pointed out in yesterday’s post — “once a cheater, always a cheater” is not true. But “once a cheater in this marriage, ALWAYS a cheater in this marriage.” This relationship will always be tarred by your infidelity, and my advice to you — for your husband’s happiness and your own — is to let this marriage go.
Some people can do the mental gymnastics to reconcile, but a) they need to know there is infidelity and b) I don’t recommend that life. He’d have to live with never really trusting you, pained by your affair, and you’d have to live this marriage as the perpetual fuck up trying to get back in his good graces. It’s a crap dynamic. Just admit the thing is dead and move on.
Here are some pointers on remorse for when you tell him.
1.) Don’t make this about your pain. Don’t say how hard this is for you, or how difficult it was to carry this secret.
2.) Don’t expect him to comfort you. Expect him to be righteously pissed.
3.) Give him a very fair and generous divorce settlement. You sound young, there’s probably not much to settle. Accept responsibility. Pay his share of the lawyer bill. Whatever you have, don’t burden him economically. The emotional weight of this shit is hard enough.
4.) Get STD tested and show him the results.
5.) Remember that sorry is as sorry does. It’s not enough to say you are sorry, you have to keep behaving sorry. Don’t gaslight, don’t blame shift (i.e., “You let yourself go, you didn’t clean the apartment…” etc.)
This is a failure, Leticia, but you can learn from failure and you can act with dignity even in failure. Try out that new improved character today. Stay in therapy. Straighten out your head. Chuck entitlement thinking. Once you figure out your values and the kind of person you want to be, LIVE that. Ending this marriage the right way is a good start.