As many long-time readers and subscribers of this blog know, I have wanted my husband to document his journey in his words. It’s hard to put the entire journey into one piece, because it spans many years, has many aspects (as you know from reading my side) and many turns, valleys and victories too. To try and capture it all in one piece is impossible. I hope he will write more, or compartmentalize the task into smaller sections and talk only about those things (i.e. his vulnerabilities at the time, his true feelings for the OW, why her, the struggle to free himself from the affair, the decision to tell me, the story of how he told me, the fallout, the healing, forgiveness etc.)
Four years ago I took the first step of a journey that would alter the course of my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but by accepting an invitation from a co-worker to engage in an affair, my life would never be the same again. It seemed relatively benign at the time. A holiday from the “everyday” life of a busy professional. A break from the stress that comes with entering middle age where one has to balance a busy career, a budding family, and ailing parents. There was no balance, there was stress, hard work, and vulnerability. In fact, the affair partner wasn’t even good looking! My wife was and is a beautiful woman, she turns heads and commands a presence when she enters the room. A woman that any man would be proud to marry. When we started to date, I was surprised that she would even be interested in me – I felt that she was out of my league (as the saying goes). By contrast my affair partner was short and stout, had a big butt and uneven breasts. She used to make funny faces during intercourse that would freak me out, and sometimes turn me off. Her breasts were fake, uneven, a no frills plastics deal. She would walk into a room and typically pass judgement on people, make enemies, and develop a delusional condescending story about people. I never knew if she was telling the truth or fabricating a lie. I grew to question her words, her honesty, and her integrity. So why did I engage in an affair with such a person?????? Why did I risk it all, destroy my life, and destroy the lives of those around me?
The question of why did I have an affair has been the focal point of self exploration for the past 4 years. It is that question that has inspired me to depart from the safety of my “planned” life on a journey of exploration that will likely never end with an answer – only raise more questions.
My affair partner tricked me. She told me that she was in love with a long term boyfriend. They were living together. Their relationship was as long as my marriage had been. I discovered later that she lied about everything, there was no boyfriend. Either way, I was made to believe that we were on equal footing and both taking an equal risk to be together. She told me that it was just for fun, a holiday, and that at the drop of a hat, either one of us just had to say the word and it would end. No questions asked! No hard feelings! No consequences! This was safe. What could be safer for a stressed out middle age professional who needed some kind of reprieve? Life was hard for me at the time. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol, I turned to sex. Neither one a good solution. I later discovered that people dig themselves deeper into a hole when they use a maladaptive response to a difficult situation because not only is one left with the difficult situation left unresolved, but they also have to contend with the consequence of their poor choices. Instead of sitting down with my wife and sharing the burden of finding a solution to some of the challenges I was facing, a healthy choice that would have eventually brought us closer together, I sought out ways of resolving the situation on my own, and got caught up in an affair.
I like to believe that I am a powerful man. A man who is in control of the situation around him, independent, successful, a go getter, a bread winner, a person above average. I like to believe that I rise where all others fail. I like to believe that I don’t need help. However, over the years I have learned a very painful lesson. I can’t do it myself. Unlike my romantic notion of a hero who stands alone and wins the day, I have developed a wisdom – I cannot do it alone. I require the help of others, and work best with others assisting me. Unfortunately, my delusion of grandeur had led me into a trap. I wasn’t able to do it alone, and as a result, I was failing. As I was failing, I was vulnerable. My affair partner identified my vulnerability and exploited it. As I reflect on the affair, I believe that she did her homework. She knew where I lived, the car my wife drove, my wife’s hairstyle. She knew about things that I told her, and things that I did not tell her. After all, what kind of strait guy discusses his wife’s hairstyle with anyone? That should have been my first clue. She was stalking me. I was her project.
After my vulnerabilities were mapped out by this person, the rest must have been easy. Just slip in and begin with intercourse, and the rest is driven by blackmail – and that’s exactly what happened: My interests magically became her interests. I was complimented, validated, and made to feel like the hero that I believed I should be. But when I wanted to stop the affair, when I said we’re done the affair, the blackmail began. She threatened to disclose it to my wife, my friends, my work colleagues, and my professional circles. So I complied with her requests and continued our relationship. I was trapped! As long as I complied with her wishes, I would be okay, my world wouldn’t be torn apart, but if I didn’t comply, then she would rip me apart socially , personally, and professionally. I stayed with her, I needed time to find a way out.
Stockholm Syndrome develops when the prisoner becomes close to their kidnapper. This woman was tearing me away from everything that I held dear, against my desire to be with her, and yet I would engage with her in intercourse. Stockholm Syndrome is the only way that I can understand and explain my actions. My days were dark, I was in a prison, but walking amongst others. I was beaten down, feeling powerless and did not know what to do. Every day I hoped I would think of some kind of solution, but as her and I spent more time together, she trapped me even further. I was sinking!
It all stopped when I took away her power over me. I told my wife about the affair and braced myself for the storm that was to come.
The darkest days of my life had come upon me. Attacked by my affair partner, and on loose footing in my marriage – my life had crumbled apart. In order to put it back together I spent the next three years of my life seeking out wisdom to help me understand myself and the new world around me. I have engaged in many conversations with my wife, counselors, friends, and advisors. I have read books, scoured websites, and travelled to marriage enhancement retreats. I have begun to understand the complexity of marriage, the fragility of marriage, and the reasons why over 50% of North Americans divorce. I have understood my vulnerabilities, my strengths, and my shortcomings. I have become wiser, more humble, and scarred. I am no longer the man I was 4 years ago, and sadly my journey has taken me away from that man, the man I was before the affair, and I will not know him again.
So what have I learned?
Love. I have learned about love. I have learned that love is a conscious choice that we make every day. It is not a romantic notion that sweeps us off of our feet, draws us in, and commands our lives. I have finally understood what happens after the prince rides off with the princess into the sunset. I have understood that loving another person is distinctly different than falling in love with that person. The difference is that the act of falling in love is selfish, and short lived, while loving someone is selfless and infinite. It’s confusing because the word “love” is used in both situations.
When one falls in love, they are overwhelmed with emotion for the person that they desire to have. Their need to be with that individual is only satisfied by being with that individual. It is selfish. I hate to sound unromantic but two people who have “fallen in love” are coexisting in a selfish state. They are mutually fulfilling a desire to be with the other person. In being together they are satisfying their own selfish need, and coincidentally satisfying their partner’s selfish need. The “in love” phenomenon ends as the newness, or as some term it the “ Honeymoon” phase of the relationship comes to a close. At the two year mark, the work of choosing to love another person begins. This is selfless work to satisfy an altruistic desire to foster a partner’s growth, wellbeing and happiness.
I fell in love with my wife when we met, and I continue to love her. Over the years, since the affair, I find myself seeking out to experience her pain. I enter a frame of mind that I believe she may be in, and I experience her pain. The feeling is chaotic and indescribable. I can’t make sense of it, explain it, or relay it to anyone. I can’t think of an analogous way to describe it. It’s horrible. It is pure pain and agony. Sometimes it brings me to tears, but mostly it brings me beyond tears. It’s hard to believe that the mind has the ability to transcend into such darkness, but it is how I would imagine feeling as death descends upon me.
I often engage in the act of empathizing with my wife. She has struggles, as any person, and she is more feeling than I am. As I experience that which I believe she experiences, I strive to understand her needs and desires, and I yearn to fulfill them. When I make the choice to love her, I make the choice to let go of myself, my needs and wants and to step into her world. Only from there can I be the man who I want to be for her in order to create a world around her that will foster her personal needs and growth.
In addition to love, I have learned about the power of vulnerability. We are all vulnerable. Stress, hard knocks in life, our own insecurities make us vulnerable. Anyone who can identify another’s vulnerabilities can exploit them for personal gain. As I have learned about the notion of manipulation of others through their vulnerabilities, I have discovered the value and importance of privacy and intimacy. Before the affair I lived an open life. I knew that there were people who were extremely secretive, and I condemned them for their secrecy. It seemed like they had a poker hand that they were slyly going to play at any given time. I was proud to be open, transparent, and non secretive (with some socially appropriate exceptions). In retrospect, it was a naive way to be. My affair partner identified my needs, my weaknesses, and my insecurities. Then she simply gave me what she believed would satisfy me. She reeled me in close enough that she got her meat hooks into me. Once I was trapped, her true colours came out. I have learned that one must be aware of their vulnerabilities, whether it be work stress, a fight with the spouse, a sick parent, or conflict with their children. By exposing this to others, one may place themselves at risk. It’s not hard for a prospective affair partner to play the role of a perfect “friend” in order to draw a vulnerable person into an affair and to draw them away from a more constructive approach of solving their problems.
Lastly, I have learned about the fallibility of humanity. Humans are imperfect! I raise this point not as an acceptable excuse for my adulterous behaviour. I raise it to emphasize the importance of a salad of human instinctive behaviours. Firstly, tolerance, understanding, and acceptance: I have been with my wife for nearly 16 years if we count the years we were dating. Never had I cheated on her except in this affair. In fact, I had never cheated on anyone who I had ever been with. However, I have been labeled a philanderer. Although not by my wife, I have been tried and sentence as a guy who will probably do it again – my historic track record of fidelity has been deemed unimportant. I believe that it is a human quality to protect oneself from further pain by making such accusations. In order to not rise up in battle against the unfounded notion that I would cheat again, I find comfort in accepting and understanding the source of the belief. Second, there is a belief that knowledge and insight brings one illumination and growth. Specifically, when I look back at my journey, am I a better man for taking it? Have I learned, have I changed? I think we as humans have learned to believe that personal growth, knowledge, and insight are positive. Ignorance, although blissful, is considered negative. However, I have lived through the darkest days of my life over these years. I almost lost everything that I had worked to build; money, career, and family. I still have pangs of anxiety when my lawyer’s office contacts me with regards to requests from the affair partner (yes it went to the lawyers and to the courts). I have no more benefit in my life from this experience than a concentration camp survivor has from their experience. I just recognize that there can exist a very dark reality, and regretfully I partook in it. Although maybe I need to have some further maturity around this point – all I can believe is that I wish I had never had the affair, I wish it never happened. Thirdly, I feel aged. This affair and the aftermath took the wind out from under my sails. I don’t know if perhaps it’s just aging in general, but I find myself feeling older, looking older, and generally less ambitious than I have been in the past. In recent years, I have become very aware of my humanity, fallibility, and mortality.
Over the years, I have made many attempts to write about my experience and my insights. I’ve had a lot of difficulty expressing my thoughts on this with clarity. I hope to share my experience, the lessons learned, and the wisdom gained. I hope to impart this wisdom to others who may walk down the same path. It is my sincerest hope that no one ever does what I did as it will ruin their life, the life of their spouse and the lives of their children.
Feel free to ask any questions or make comments. I will pass them along to him, and get him to reply to the specific comments directed at him.
Thanks for reading and for your continued support of our story.