It has been really helpful for me to tell people about my choices and disordered thinking, so here goes again. My first post on SI:
Last April my wife learned about the most recent of multiple affairs I have had over our 24+ year marriage, and then I told her about the rest. To say she was devastated doesn't nearly capture it. Shattered, destroyed, destabilized, humiliated, attacked, bewildered.
Let me put it more accurately: I devastated her, shattered her, destroyed and destabilized what she knew of our marriage, humiliated her, attacked and bewildered her.
My AP and I maintained a fiction of a "couple's friendship" with my wife while we had an on-again/off-again 4-year affair. I betrayed my wife more profoundly, but the AP also did.
And my wife responded with courage, anger, hurt, forgiveness, and love. This astounds me still --- if someone told me this story and asked my advice, I'd tell them to leave the guy. She didn't, an amazing and undeserved gift that I can't rationally grasp, but for which I am unbelievably grateful.
At the time this all came out, I was blessed with one small understanding: the path I was on was leading to a lifetime of duplicity, inauthenticity and dissatisfaction. I needed to get off that path, take a hard look at myself, and get to a place where, even if I lost everyone I currently loved through my actions (including our 3 children who could also have turned away,) I could still start to build some ability to know myself, love and connect with people from the truest, honest part of myself.
Like many on SI, I struggled with self-realization. I missed the AP and the social circle she represented, despite its malignant, false implications. I sought at times to blame my wife, and to understand the family issues that brought me to one place, and the choices I made after that brought me to this place.
The brief version: a philandering, abusive, alcoholic and powerful father, professionally and socially admired and the absolute authority within the home. A meek, loving and anxious mother, whose love was unconditional but intimidated by my father's rage and threats of making her an "abandoned woman." Four siblings, all close in age, all struggling and all of us acting out the chaos and enormous hurt in our lives, sometimes at each other's expense.
I grew up not just doubting my self-worth, but fairly convinced that anything I wanted or needed could easily be taken away if I didn't behave "just so." I had lots of old hurts, lots of new and ongoing distress that I didn't even recognize, or if I did, felt it was my wife's job to take away. Just in the way I believed it had been my parents' job, but of course they can't erase all our hurts; life just hurts. I sought out vulnerable women, wounded creatures who needed emotional protection, and felt powerful when I could use my sensitivity and pseudo-vulnerability to seduce them.
I still am trying to figure some of this out. Just recently I came to realize how terrified I am of abandonment, and that perhaps I was always trying to keep another relationship available in case my wife grew fed up, learned the truth, or simply stopped loving me.
My wife and I have been blessed, in an odd way, by the catastrophe of my choices. We chose to open up to one another, to speak about ourselves more honestly and to not suppress the hurts that in past turned into resentments. We found each other stronger than we believed. And we found our marriage stronger than ever.
For me the greatest blessing of all has been this: to let go (mostly -- I'm working on this) of resentment and the dissatisfaction that plagued me and kept me from the joy of loving my wife for who she is. To see her again, to see her anew and so powerful and brave, has allowed me to love her in a way I never came to before.
A few other things we both found helpful: books on affairs, and books on being wounded and open. I particularly recommend "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts" by Gabor Mate', along with Brene Brown's work. We both found art -- she poured her pain into sculpture and I wrote poetry, read poetry, took a class. When I write like that, I not only feel like I HAVE to be honest with myself, but also that the intense focus on capturing the image helps me awaken what has lain unexamined in my heart and soul.
We have a great marriage counselor and my individual counselor has held me to a higher standard, bringing me along to better self-understanding.
This post feels long and self-indulgent, but I guess no one has to read it.
I send it to wayward spouses like me with a message of love and compassion for your betrayed spouses and for YOU, struggling to find your confused way. The work can seem daunting, impossible and with it you may find new despair (as I have --thankfully I didn't run in front of that bus a couple of weeks ago). But as my daughter says, the world is "FUCKING AMAZING" and this is our chance to embrace it with our whole hearts.
Let's do that.