First things first. I am a cheater. Like an alcoholic, I use the current tense of the verb “be”, because I don’t know if cheating is a learned behavior or a character flaw. I am currently in a very committed monogamous relationship, so I’m a recovering cheater. I believe my recovery is directly related to the effects of the cheating itself. Here are some things I have learned on this particular path that I’d like to share.
Guilt is a real live thing.
I am nearly seven years post-infidelity, and I still feel guilt for my actions and the pain I caused others through my actions. I have missed nearly seven years of my nieces and nephews growing up. I allowed my shame to alienate and estrange me from my ex-partner’s family, and like the cheating itself, that’s on me. I think of my ex mother-in-law frequently, especially when I see elephant-themed jewelry or art, elephants having been one of her favorite things. I think of the kids, now all nearing adulthood, and all the basketball/softball/baseball/football/recitals/concerts etc that I have missed, and I’m sad. My self-imposed exile has served its purpose. I am punished. Not to mention the guilt and shame I feel for betraying the trust of my loving, trusting ex-partner. I can hear her still, saying to me incredulously, “How can you do this to me??” then in the next breath, “How can you do this to HER??” Her, here, refers to the wife of the man I was having an affair with. His wife who trusted me and was my friend, who would have given me the food out of her mouth and the clothing off her back. How could I be so selfish? I am now married to this man I cheated with, and I love him as a precious thing I was never meant to have, and I am sorry every day for the manner in which he and I began our relationship.
Jealousy must be guarded against.
Knowing how our relationship started, I have had my share of misgivings toward my now-husband, alleging that he could easily err again. To his credit, in the process of reassuring me, he has not ever pointed out the obvious; that so, too, could I. I have learned that my jealousy stems from insecurity, which is my problem, not my husband’s. He has given me no concrete reason to doubt his faithfulness to our relationship, but my mind running wild certainly has tried to lead me into suspicion and accusation. My husband maintains a business relationship and de facto friendship of sorts with his ex-wife, as she is the secretary/bookkeeper for his business. They manage this with over 200 miles between them by utilizing lots of texting, emailing, USPS mailing, and phone calls. It has taken years for me to find peace with this relationship they have, and honestly, while it is still an uneasy peace, it is one I am fiercely proud of having attained.
Some people care about your history, and some people do not.
My closest sister and quite good friend as well, is also very good friends with my husband’s ex-wife, and had been for years before The Affair. We have navigated several years of estrangement, reacquaintance, tentative conversations and time shared, and while we are now definitely on the upswing from the wreckage of her being caught in the midst of this uproar he and I created, I am certain that our relationship is forever changed. My father and step mother spent several years not only shunning me for The Affair, but actively campaigning for my other family members to shun me as well. We now have very minimal civil contact, and that is all I am comfortable with where my father is concerned. I also had the unflagging support of my late mother, who had some personal experience with a similar life event in her younger days. My young adult son asked some difficult questions of me, and listened to my answers, and unknowingly helped me navigate some areas I might otherwise have skirted. His support is the touchstone of unconditional love in my life. I am very fortunate to have a loving and accepting brother and sister-in-law who are raising my equally loving and accepting niece who accepted my life choices and welcomed my new relationship and my new partner-come-husband with open and enthusiastic arms, as well. I lost a double handful of friends to my infidelity, I imagine (and strangely, approve) out of support of my ex-partner. I think she deserved far better than she got from me, and any friends who supported her by being present with her and closing me out have my respect, although I certainly miss these people and their presence in my life. I maintained several strong friendships through the transitional stages of my relationships (the demise of one and the establishment of the other), and we worked through how this change affected all of us, not just those of us closest to the center. We live in a small town, and I am certain there are still people who judge us as lacking moral fortitude, and still others who just don’t give a damn what anyone else is doing. I am equally certain that I place more import on the acceptance of others than it should be accorded.
You continue to evolve every day, just as you have since the day you first drew breath.
There is nothing except myself to stop me from releasing the guilt I feel, and I am working on that. There’s no one standing over my shoulder encouraging me to feel jealousy or insecurity about how my husband conducts himself, and I can and do deal with these feelings in a healthy way that doesn’t create conflict in our relationship now. While I might sometimes feel that our infidelity is the first thing people who have known us both through The Affair and subsequent divorcings and coming together think of when they think of us, quite likely it is not a thing many of our acquaintances or any of our friends dwell on as our defining moment.
Who am I today? I am still a cheater…like alcoholism, I don’t know that it is a thing from which you ever stop recovering. Certainly for me it is an ongoing, daily process of redefinition and recommittment and reassurance and reflection. Maybe that is also still some of the guilt I haven’t released yet. Time may change my mind. I am also a fierce, loyal wife and friend to my husband. I am able to meet the eyes of my ex-partner’s brothers and nieces and nephews when I see them around this small, small town. I am comfortable with the boundaries I’ve set between myself and my father. I am viscerally grateful for the family and friends who stand by me through all of the things that happen in a human life.
I am becoming, every day, just as I have been all my life. My past does not prescribe my future.