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Getting past WS' acknowledgement of wrongdoing?

Abacus posted 12/12/2017 11:38 AM

I'll have to warn you that this is one of those lengthy posts where the writer takes the whole morning to compose it. It was cathartic to write, though, so thanks to the forum for just existing. It could just be a journal entry of mine. But if you go way down, there are two questions that actually surfaced. If you've dealt with this and have some helpful advice, I will appreciate it.

I'm looking to understand and be prepared for what comes after cognitive dissonance is finally acknowledged and the justifications for the A are finally rejected. When a WS can admit that the A was wrong simply because it was WRONG -- not because it hurt the BS -- what happens next?

There was one point in the early stage where, because I had discovered the A accidentally (used his laptop instead of mine, they look alike, to send a FB message and WOAH, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS ...), he said that I had invaded HIS privacy by reading his private conversation with the OW in the first place. I did the Pick Me dance when he kept saying that the affair happened because our marriage had been crap. He's wanted me to "get over it" and "It won't happen again, because we're good now."

Well, have I grown since then! All that stuff is shit, I know. My already low self-esteem hit the toilet on D-day and it's been a long haul to pull myself out. I'm still pulling. I'm still a swirl of hurt and anger and all that. But I want the R. I want the M to be restored. Although with a healthier me and a healthier him and a healthier M. So, after several months of good ol' fashioned rug-sweeping with bouts of angry flooding of anger and conversations that went nowhere, I insisted on MC and he agreed (the "we need a referee" type of decision). It's been a good thing, but, as I knew it would, it meant that the rug-sweeping would come to light. That's beginning now, and it's really hard. The old me would like to pretend like everything's okay. The new me is trying to stand up for herself.

I'm understanding WHY the justifications kept getting in his way. They were the classic, "Things were so bad, our marriage was dead anyway. Therefore it doesn't count as cheating."

I get it. You do something that you know is wrong, but it conflicts with who you think you are (the moral and upright person) or whatever other value you hold, so you need to justify your behavior. ("I'm a good person, so what I did wasn't bad -- because X, Y, and Z.") I get that. It's why I drink a cup of coffee every morning -- it's bad for my heart in the long run, but if I don't have just one cup, I get a headache. So, it's okay. My sister smokes cigarettes, she knows it's bad for her, but it's only XX a day, not XXXX a day, and everyone else does it where she works, so it's okay.

A few weeks ago in MC the A was mentioned, briefly, and he said, "Well, I didn't cross any boundaries, but she thinks I did." And then the conversation shifted. But it stuck with me. The old me would try to forget it. But the new me couldn't. It's been nagging at me for a couple weeks now.

So, we had a particularly painful MC session yesterday. I brought up the comment he had made, and how I felt about it. I explained that I need to be reassured that we were on the same page with our definitions of boundaries. I don't want to go through the future with the "as long as we're "good", he won't hurt me again" hanging over my head. I needed him to think logically through the timeline of the development of his inappropriate relationship with OW and determine at what point it became inappropriate. He just wouldn't answer that. Instead, he repeated his justifications of it. Our MC tried very hard to help him navigate this whole situation.

(Sidenote disclosure: I'm a retired children's chaplain. I have pastoral training and experience with children and children's moral and faith development, which is very different from what we're going through. But it does shape and inform me, and I can recognize how our MC handles her role. I do not bring up my experience and training with my husband, because I think it causes him to think that I'm lording it over him. We've only touched on it briefly in session, as a getting-to-know-you thing. Another related disclosure is that we both left the church, which is why I'm retired. Our changed faith is not an issue, BTW, it's something we hold in common).

Back to the question of the inappropriateness of the relationship that he had with the OW. He just shut down. The session was out of time and (internally) I was concerned about how we were going to handle the week with this hanging over us. So I pulled from my chaplain experience. I cheerfully said that I would be patient until he could figure out (and was ready to discuss) where that relationship got to the inappropriate level. I said that I was sad that we weren't yet on the same page but that I trusted that we'd get there. I said that I needed to have these boundary definitions in order to feel safe for the future and rebuild the trust. Everything that I said was true, but I had to pull my "bravery" and "positive outlook" tools out of the drawer for it. (Yes, I visually compartmentalize my feelings and attitudes. It's a coping mechanism.)

By evening I was exhausted from the emotion of the day (he went back to the office and I tried, and failed, to work at home). I didn't have enough in me to pretend with exuberance that things were fine, but I didn't want to provoke anything, so I was just pretty quiet. He asked me what was wrong and if I wanted to talk about it. I told him that I'm sad that we're not on the same page, I'm trying to be hopeful that we'll get there, but I'm also trying to wrap my brain around what to do if we don't. "But we're good now" was the response. I kept myself together, but let him know that wasn't acceptable to me anymore.

His apologies for the A have come in progressive steps. We have moved from
"I'm sorry that you got hurt by this"
to "I'm sorry that I hurt you by this"
to "I'm sorry I did this because it hurt you".

In the conversation last night, the apology shifted to "I'm sorry that I couldn't break through to you so I had to go elsewhere to get my needs met". Yeah, nope. Didn't fly with me. I told him that it just sounded like more justification: "You (me, BS) were unreachable so I (WH) was okay to go elsewhere". He got pissed and said that I always twist his words.

So I steer the conversation to how, instead of just quietly assuming these things, I'm needing him to hear how I interpret his words so that we don't have these assumptions of each other.

He seemed to be receptive of this, so I asked, "Are you sorry about this inappropriate relationship BECAUSE it hurt me, OR are you sorry about this inappropriate relationship because it was WRONG, period?"

It took a very long time for him to answer. I just waited. FINALLY, "I"m sorry because it was wrong."

Then he turned away and that was the end of the conversation. That's okay, because it was late at night and we needed to sleep, and because I wasn't sure how to handle my response. I'm learning, slowly, to not jump into reacting without taking the time to digest.

This is exactly what I was needing to hear. But now I have two issues I'm dealing with, and hence the reason for this post in the first place.

ONE: In my trying to make sense of things, I have done a ton of reading (and digesting!) and am understanding cognitive dissonance and how it factors into my WS' actions (past and present). But in all my understanding, what I'm NOT finding is what to DO about it. How do people overcome this? When they figure out that their justifications are just covering up their wrongdoing, what next? How do they get through it?

The person finally lets go of those justifications, what then? How does the WS cope with what they've done, and what does the BS do in the midst of this?

I don't think that it's my responsibility to "help" him navigate his shame and guilt feelings. (I am recognizing my co-dependent tendencies). But I don't want to complicate them or add to them. So, what do I say? How do I act?

TWO: A whole other issue that I have is that I don't fully trust that he's genuine about this apology. It's a big deal to finally acknowledge wrongdoing, especially after over a year of trying to justify it. Is he just saying what I want to hear so that we can be done with the conversation? I think the answer to this is that I can't crawl into his head, so I just can't know and I'll have to be good with it. Is believing that he's genuine something I should just wait and see about? Is questioning his motives going to derail him getting through this, if indeed it is genuine? I don't have much practice living within the tension of skepticism and belief. Are there coping skills that I can add to my tool drawer?

[This message edited by Abacus at 11:41 AM, December 12th (Tuesday)]

Oldwounds posted 12/12/2017 12:09 PM

How do people overcome this? When they figure out that their justifications are just covering up their wrongdoing, what next? How do they get through it?

In our situation, my wife kept her A a secret a long time and she held on to her justifications for a long time. But she always did understand the right v. wrong -- she simply rationalized as needed in order to sleep at night.

That said, she ended the A, she moved herself out of cognitive dissonance on her own and eventually confessed. And yet, we still had the same trickle truth and justification issues as anyone else who discovers an active affair.

Shame tends to be the big replacement for justification. She hasn't forgiven herself and pushes through that shame the best she can as she continues to work on herself.

My offering empathy and grace has fostered her healing some. The next big question is why would I do that? Because if I'm going to stick around, I want as healthy of a relationship as possible, which includes offering support to her, while she offers her support to me and we heal as a team.

Is believing that he's genuine something I should just wait and see about?

Yes. It takes time and a relentless effort by my wife to show me her feelings are now genuine. 18-months in a row, I'm starting to believe that she is truly all in.

It takes a while, be kind to yourself and don't rush any part of processing your very natural anger, sadness and pain.

I told my wife fairly early on, she needs to show me why it is worth my time to stay. In turn, I've done what you've done, studied up the best I can to try to understand something I'll never really be able to comprehend -- and shown some empathy to the person who hurt me the most. The combination has formed a decent, brand new foundation to work with, and I'm as hopeful as I've been in a long, long time.

While the behavior for those who choose to A is similar, I find the recovery process is far more unique. You'll find your way, any path you choose going forward (R or D).

sisoon posted 12/12/2017 16:40 PM

One of the things my W is still struggling with is seeing herself as an awful person because she cheated. So that's at least one of the things that follows acknowledgement of the A

IMO, your H needs to understand with every fiber of his being that HE cheated, and for HIS OWN reasons. The fact that he considered you unreachable didn't cause him to cheat.

Your H needs to face himself and change from cheater to good partner, and he can't do that until he takes responsibility for himself and for his actions. It sounds like he's not there yet, but he's getting closer.

I'm not sure, but I think he needs to see the relationship as one that hurt him, along with the M and you.

Abacus posted 12/12/2017 17:21 PM

Thank you two for replying. It is reassuring to read your feedback.

I'm vacillating today with so many emotions! Sadness, anger, despair, and ... hope. Trying not to make a judgment call on myself, which would just be: crazy.

And then I'm amused. And then I'm angry again.

This is exhausting. I need a vacation.

Hg65 posted 12/12/2017 22:31 PM

I remember days...weeks after DDay when it occurred to me that my WH was trying to apologize, using all sorts of fancy terms/phrases of deceit and NOT once did he say I lied to you. He could not utter the word LIE.

I cornered him in the kitchen one day and told him he needed to Say the word! The look on his face, the stuttering...the stiffening of his body and then he just said it, Im sorry I lied to you. And that was when it hit him. He quit spinning his story and admitted he was very wrong. It was very hard for him to say that word because it then put him in that category (cheater and liar) and he FINALLY had to deal with his shit.

psychmom posted 12/13/2017 07:26 AM

I don't feel that your H has fully taken responsibility for his choices and actions. And without seeing that, believing that, a thoughtful, perceptive woman like yourself cannot feel safe, because in your heart you know he's not yet safe.

It took nearly 6 months post Dday to finally break down my H defenses. It was brutal, painful, too slow for me. But bit by bit the reality sunk in for him and I watched him change before my eyes as he awakened to all he became and had done. Yes, early on I was to blame for not loving him, not being the wife he wanted me to be. It was hard to get him to see outside that mindset, that defensive wall that protected him.

But eventually he did see that he was responsible and things improved from there. Is that what you need to see? For your H to go down another level or 2 to see beneath the superficial? Are you wondering what it takes to get him there?

OneInTheSame posted 12/13/2017 08:37 AM

I'm not sure, but I think he needs to see the relationship as one that hurt him, along with the M and you.

Sisoon is spot in with this! I told my WW over and over again that I was not the only one hurt, but it took her setting aside her guilt and shame to see that indeed, the affair was terribly self-destructive, and destructive of our relationship. I now see affairs as one of the most self-destructive behaviors one can engage in.

NoMercy posted 12/13/2017 08:48 AM

I don't believe it's always about 'guilt and shame' when they refuse to own up to what they did and instead defend themselves.

Sometimes, it's more about NOT wanting to be at your complete mercy by owning up to their crap. Once they do that, they've lost ALL their power.

Both of my serial cheaters had ZERO shame or guilt. None, whatsoever. And they would have jumped off a cliff before ever handing me the truth and basically putting themselves at my mercy.

sisoon posted 12/13/2017 10:08 AM

I'm vacillating today with so many emotions! Sadness, anger, despair, and ... hope. Trying not to make a judgment call on myself, which would just be: crazy.

Oh, sweetheart, if you weren't vacillating, you'd probably be doing yourself a disservice. With a WS who doesn't yet get it, jumping between grief, anger, despair and hope is what a healthy person does.

Breathe deep. Be kind to yourself.


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