If I've learned anything over these last 2 years, it's that my perspective on what my H did is not the same thing as truth. No matter how much I believed my thoughts, feelings, perspective, in reality, there is a whole other perspective at play. Like a deer in headlights, what's happened has you locked in and it's almost impossible to look away.
he was telling her he loved her just weeks after it started. The A ended only because I found out about it and even though he was telling me he wanted the A to be over, I could see from his actions that he was in limbo, in the fog, still believing that he might have loved her and that she loved him.
He was telling her he loved her after just a few weeks because he loved how he was feeling -- about himself. This is what the fog is all about. His feelings had nothing to do with her in particular, they were simply superficial feelings generated by being pursued and desired. So yes, the A may have ended because you found out, but it was going to eventually end no matter what. The fog eventually clears as reality is sure to set in. At the time, he may have believed he loved her/that she loved him, because what else was he to make of his behavior? I can believe in a lot of things when they simply confirm what I am feeling. If I'm feeling it, it must be real, right? Um, no.
That's really hard for me and shows where his loyalty was.
It should be hard for you - but not because he was more faithful or loyal to her than you. Edit out that word "loyalty" because it's going to do nothing but trip you up. His mind was responding to something that's not even in the same realm as loyalty. He rebelled against loyalty and allowed misguided emotions to take over. He was high on the feelings he was getting out of the A. And that had nothing to do with you. That's why we talk about how selfish the behavior is. It's not even about the AP - she was simply a tool to get high off of.
Shortly after he would cry that he didn't want to lose his children, and to me that looked like he was just staying with me out of obligation.
He's torn. He's F'd up. He's attempting to live out two contradictory lives. Edit out the word "obligation." Like "loyalty," you are assigning adult/grown up/responsible qualities to a person who abandoned those things in favor of whatever it was that made him feel desired and wanted. Do you see how the emotions are directed towards him? Again, it's not about you and it's not about her. It's about him responding to a need and doing so is in direct conflict with all the other things he cares about. He is lost.
He even told me very soon after D-Day that he wouldn't have done what he did if he didn't feel strongly about her and if they didn't have a bond.
He wouldn't have done what he did if he didn't feel strongly about how the AFFAIR made him feel. If he felt strongly about her and had a bond, then he'd still be with her now. It was a 4 month fling, not some epic love story, because if it was, he would not give her up. In order to make sense of what he was doing, he came up with all kinds of justifications - mental gymnastics - in order to square what he was doing. How on earth does anyone betray his own children and his committed life partner? Well, it has to be something huge like LOVE, right? That's the conclusion he drew in his fog state. The fog has cleared, the A is over and this is where he is now:
Now he says he believes he never loved her, that he was lying to himself so that he could accept what he was doing.
But I say that he really believed in his feelings for OW at the time, so how can he say he wasn't in love with her? I mean, what else is love if not a belief?
"At the time" is the only correct thing you said here. At the time, he was caught up in feelings and in the response to those feelings that at the time, he decided should be labeled love. "I'm completely throwing away my moral compass, I'm giving up on my own core values, and I am tossing aside everything I believe in to relish in these feelings." The only sane response to this irrational behavior is to assign those feelings to a belief. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to do it. And you and I both know that there is much, much more to love than this 4 month detour from what he truly believes. Don't use the word love to describe what went on between them. That's the word he used to justify his behavior. You will get incredibly lost and confused attempting to use terms like love to describe something that was completely void of love.
my big issues are that I feel like second choice and how do I deal with the fact that he was in love with someone else for a time?
There is not a BS on this forum that doesn't feel like a second choice. That's what adultery does to those of us who have been betrayed by the one person we trusted most. Those feelings are powerful and they hurt like hell. But just because you feel those things, does not mean they are true and should be believed. (Are you seeing a recurring theme here?)
for a time
For a time, your H got lost in his own needs and feelings and you became a non-entity. That is such a terrible truth, isn't it? It is the opposite of marital love. For a time, he was absorbed in himself. If you are second to anything, you became second to your H - in his world. How do you deal with the fact that he was in love with someone else? Well, first you deal with the fact that that is not a fact. The fact is: He was in love with the way he felt. Say that out loud: He was in love with the way he felt. Love, real love involves two people giving all of themselves to each other because they care more about the other person than themselves. You know this. He knows this. And you both know it or you wouldn't be together now.
Once you deal with that true fact (and you both rely heavily on IC to help you really get this,)then you deal with the fact that your H royally f*cked up his life, made stupid mistakes and got incredibly lost and is broken. And it is OK to be mad about that. In fact, you will find yourself getting really angry about that. When the people we love do things that hurt themselves as well as all the other things we love, anger is the expected response. When my kid darts out into a parking lot without me and I finally catch him and pull him into me, my first reaction is anger: Don't you ever do that again! You could have gotten hurt! You know you're supposed to hold my hand! And because you love him and you cherished your marriage, you have every right to be sad, to grieve over what he sacrificed.
but his feelings, how can I be mad that he didn't love me?
You can be mad that BECAUSE he loves you, always has and probably always will, he went ahead and allowed his feelings, his own needs, his very self to take priority over everything else. His behavior contradicts his commitment. And you can be mad, sad, hurt, distraught, overwhelmed, etc about that.
one of my oldest and deepest childhood issues, which is never feeling good enough or worthy enough.
This is what you are going to have work on. This is what you are going to have deal with. Because as long as this is at work within you, nothing your H says or does will be taken at face value. Because of your distorted ideas about yourself, your H's behavior just confirms those thoughts, right? You're going to have to work hard to remove that filter so that you can entertain the idea that his actions are all about him, not about you. That is the reality. But it's going to take a lot of work on your part to believe it.
And finally, this:
I'm fearful about how to push past that and feel good about myself in my relationship. Do I just need to look at it as the old M being dead and that we are just starting from scratch?
Fear will keep you stuck. It will keep you blind to the truth. It will become a wedge between you and your healing and between you and reconciling with your H. You are going to have to work up courage every single day to push past fear so that you can feel good about yourself and your relationship. What is dead is the ways you used to see and perceive your H, yourself and the world. Your M is alive, but not well. It's taken a grave hit, but if you are together now, it's not dead yet. In the course of some 20 years, you now have these 4 months or so when your H took a detour - a detour from you, your M, your family, your history and most importantly, from himself. No, I don't think you are starting from scratch. I suspect you have 2 decades of love to build from. His A may have wiped out trust, and you'll have to build that back from scratch, but only you can decide if it wiped out everything else. Part of making that decision will require that you challenge these thoughts you've put forth in this post.
I'm now looking over this response and see that I've taken over. Please forgive me for running with this. But I just hear my old self all in your thinking and I know for a fact that that way of thinking made it almost impossible to heal and move forward. If I can help someone avoid falling deeper into despair from this awful mess, I'll do it with all that I have.
veronique12 - learn as much as you can about infidelity and affairs, challenge your perspective, don't give into your own inner demons, love yourself enough to stay with the process. I promise that if you do that and your H continues to work just as hard with his own issues, you two have a fighting chance. I really believe that.