I wanted to post a follow-up to my last opinion piece. I talked about reasons to leave a cheater (or, rather, reasons to kick them out). This one will address what I believe are common excuses that people tell themselves to stay.
1. ”I owe it to him/her to see if this can work.” No, you don’t. You don’t owe the cheater anything. You’ve already given things a chance to work, and they didn’t. Your spouse threw that away. They chose not to work on things (themselves or the marriage, if there were marital issues before they strayed). Instead, they caused further destruction. Face it, your relationship wasn’t great before or during the cheating (because communication and intimacy have to be screwed up for something like that to be possible, and your partner obviously had no concern for your feelings or, often times, health). Now that something this huge and damaging and hurtful is added on top, what was shitty before is not going to become magically wonderful.
2. “But he/she loves me.” That is not love. See this post for an elaboration on this point. It was written by a wayward spouse, with my commentary added, and it really takes a hard look at the kind of “love” a cheating partner is showing.
3. ”But I love him/her.” I’m sure you do. You’re not getting that love back (see above, and just look at their actions). Love isn’t always enough, especially if it isn’t returned in equal measure. Loving someone can be a good thing, but it can also cause you to devalue yourself if it gets to the point where your love leads you to accept treatment and behavior that is completely unacceptable. Try loving yourself first, just as much or more than you love them.
4. “What will happen to him/her if I leave? I can’t abandon him in such a vulnerable time. What if he commits suicide? Him, him, him, him, him, ad nauseum…” I see this so much, and I just want to grab the person, shake them, and tell them to stop making it about the cheater. Stop expending your energy and emotions over their feelings when they didn’t care one iota about yours. Do you need to be cruel and mean and hurt them the way that they did you? No, absolutely not. In fact, I discourage it because it won’t help you.
However, you do NOT need to fuss over them, or worry about the ramifications that their choices will have on their lives (it was THEIR job to do that, and they obviously decided the risk was worth it). Believe me, they are playing that sympathy card and working you like a fiddle. They know the more they can put the attention on their poor, pitiful me act, the more you will be distracted and the less you will focus on how you’re feeling.
Don’t fall into the trap of comforting the cheater more than you comfort yourself or looking out for their interests more than your own. You can give them the phone number to the crisis/ suicide hotline and the yellow pages for a psychologist with emergency appointments if they really are considering that route, because they need professional help anyway. Other than that, take care of yourself, and let them deal with the fallout from their actions, whatever they may be. The bottom line is that you cannot live for someone else.
5. ”He/she is so sorry!” Sure they are… sorry that they got caught. If they are one of the rare few who actually confessed what they did, it was most likely for selfish reasons. Plus, being sorry does not change anything.
6. “He/she never loved the affair partner.” Maybe. Maybe not. If they didn’t, that’s actually worse. Someone who can throw away fidelity and their spouse’s trust over a person who they have no feelings or attachments to is the scariest kind of cheater. It reeks of sociopathy. And if they were in love? Then there are a whole new set of problems to consider.
7. “I don’t have any other options.” There are always other options. Don’t stay because you feel trapped. Use the law to your advantage, reach out to family or friends, find an organization that helps people in situations like that, look into pro bono attorneys, think about taking a class, even a low-cost community one, and give yourself a fighting chance at happiness. Unless you’re kidnapped, enslaved, or chained down, there are always ways to get out.
8. “He/she is the best I’ll ever find.” This one makes me sad. People who tell themselves this have had their self-esteem beaten down to the point where they feel like the poor treatment they are getting is the best they deserve. I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. There are millions of people in the world. There is no “the one.” Does that mean there aren’t some people out there who will stay single forever and not find another person to fall in love with? No, I wouldn’t go that far. However, I firmly believe that it is better to be happy on your own than be taken advantage of by someone just to have a “partner.” I put that in quotes because anyone who behaves that way isn’t a real partner at all. I’d rather be in a ship alone that in it with someone who keeps shooting holes in the bottom. Plus, when you take care of yourself and learn to find fulfilment within yourself, you will start attracting people toward you without even meaning to.
9. “I’m ashamed. What will we tell our friends/family/kids?” You have nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t make someone cheat. That is a decision that they make all on their own, no matter how bad the marriage was to begin with. There are always options – talking about it, therapy, marriage retreats, plainly stating that xyz needs aren’t being met and it’s making me think about xyz, asking for a divorce, going to a pastor or religious leader (if that’s your thing), and the list goes on. They chose not to do that. Instead, they cheated. There is nothing shameful about walking away at that point. Tell people whatever you want to tell them. The truth, if you feel comfortable, or nothing if you don’t. It’s not their business anyway. Now for the kids part…
10. “I can’t leave because of the kids.” I don’t have children, so I’m obviously not a parent. I’m not a child psychologist. Surprisingly, I haven’t even dug up a lot of research on this subject to post here (although you know that sounds just like me to do, and I have read plenty of it in my journey through this mess because of my thirst for knowledge). Instead, I’m going to tell you a story.
My family growing up looked perfect. From the outside. My parents didn’t really fight in front of us. They didn’t really have conflicts. My Dad had some control issues and not very much patience, there wasn’t a lot of affection, and there was sometimes tension in my household, but no one from the outside knew anything was wrong. As I child I couldn’t point to one thing and say – “that’s really messed up” or “because of THAT my parents aren’t a good match.” However, I remember wishing, praying, and even once begging my Mom to get a divorce. I think she was taken aback that time, because I truly believe she thought they hid things exceptionally well.
And they did, for the most part. There was no cheating. No abuse. No horrible, terrible things happening in my house. But there also wasn’t happiness, love, or open kisses and hugs between my parents. I had a wonderful childhood in just about every sense – I had everything I needed and more. I had support from both parents. I was involved in sports and they both cheered me on, I had horses, went to shows, we ate dinner as a family together every single night, and more. But I knew. I just KNEW that they weren’t happy.
It was in the air. I could sense it, even if I couldn’t put my finger on it. The relationship I had modeled for me was not a healthy one. The marriage I watched the entire time I was growing up is not what a real marriage should be. It was like looking at something through the bottom of a thick glass. Or looking at your reflection in a spoon. It was warped. Off. The best word I can think of to use is unfulfilling. It was unfulfilling. Suffocating, even. Except that everyone thought it was wonderful. While I was envying my friends’ divorced parents, people were admiring how great it was that my parents were still together. If only they knew what it was really like for us kids… It’s horrible to know something isn’t right but to have everyone around you not acknowledge that fact.
My parents stayed married until I was 18 or 19. It wasn’t long after I left the house. My brother and sister lived there when they separated. My brother went off to college a year or so after, but my sister was still there through the divorce. I remember talking to my parents, really talking to them both, for the first time in years… maybe ever. Especially my Dad. The honesty was so refreshing it was like a revelation. All of the pretend and make-believe, the façade that we put up as a family… I finally got confirmation that I wasn’t imagining it.
From my Mom, too. We were always pretty close, and she recognized my intelligence and treated me accordingly from a fairly young age. But from that point on it was different. She told me stories and things about their early years together, about the conflicts and family struggles that brought them together. She told me about things that I never, ever would have imagined happened. She told me about the pain of losing her father and having my Dad’s father be in jail. How she thought about leaving, even back then, but never could find the “right time.” She told me how circumstances interceded, how she got swept up in it, how we children were the best things she got out of the marriage, and other things.
We all made it through just fine. In fact, it was the best decision, by far, that they ever made. Hell, I remember being as young as 7 or 8 when I would wish every night that my parents would split. Ultimately, they did, and it was the best thing for both of them. It was a little difficult for a year or two, more for them than for us children. Honestly, we all got it. My sister was the youngest… 13 I think. Even she understood it was for the best. I recall her saying something along the lines of how much it needed to happen, and how she was glad it did.
My parents are both remarried to spouses much better suited for them in every way. Again, there was no great tragedy, no huge betrayal. They were highschool sweethearts who came together during difficult times for both of them and fell into marriage. It didn’t work. They weren’t well matched. They should have divorced well before they did. I was the only one who spoke up and said it to their face, because that’s the kind of kid I was, but I wasn’t the only one who thought it. We all did.
It didn’t irrevocably damage any of us. In fact, the most damaging things of all were the years we lived with them pretending everything was fine when we could soooo tell it wasn’t. I have a better relationship with my Dad now than I ever had. My sister, who was maybe the most upset in the very beginning, now lives with my Dad. We’re all close. We love both of our parents completely. We know that their failure to make a marriage work did not and does not reflect on us in the least. We always knew that. But living in the middle of the unhappiness was far, far, far more confusing than watching them let go.
The other thing? Having parents who you can sense are unhappy, even as they pretend they aren’t, puts a lot of pressure on a kid. I felt like I had to be perfect. I couldn’t screw up because I couldn’t add any more stress to their lives. I knew they already had plenty, even if they thought they were “protecting me” from that knowledge. My brother was the super helper. He would try extra hard to do all sorts of extra stuff. That was his way of relieving the tension we could all feel. My sister was the most sensitive of all. She would try to be the peace-keeper, between my brother and I, between the animals, you name it. We all knew something wasn’t right, and we all tried to be “better” to “fix it.” We got to be great pretenders, too.
It took its toll. I don’t think it’s by chance that my brother has never had a girlfriend, my sister has been involved in a string of relationships with losers, and I was married to someone who was never there for me emotionally or otherwise. We learned from them. We observed. We were taught, whether we knew it or not, that relationships did not have emotional support. Didn’t have affection. My sister now craves that affection and grasps onto anyone who gives it. My brother avoids connections, partly because he’s shy but I believe largely because he doesn’t know how to interact with a woman in a healthy way. I’m a mess.
I can’t blame my parents completely. I’ve made poor choices. My issues are my own. But I did learn from them. I learned from watching. They taught me excellent things separately. My Dad taught me how to play softball, how to be financially responsible, what it means to be a hard worker, and so much more. My Mom literally taught me logical thinking, empathy, how to show people respect, how to write a great paper, how to study, how to be a woman, and so many things I could never name. But together… they weren’t a good couple. They weren’t a good example of what a marriage or a relationship should be. They’re all I had to model against, though… their relationship is the only one got to see, day in and day out.
I tell you that story to tell you this – I may not be a parent, but I was a kid of parents who should have divorced long before they did. Children deserve an example of a healthy relationship. I know some people with children think that holding onto something broken that makes them unhappy is somehow the best choice for their kids. It’s not. A situation that makes you miserable is not healthy for anyone, your kids especially. It doesn’t set a good example. Neither does sticking around after being betrayed and lied to, over and over. Kids seek out the type of marriage that they see their parents display. It’s a subconscious choice that takes a lot of hard work to fight against. No matter what you SAY to them, it is what you DO that makes all of the difference. When you have an unhealthy example, that’s what you gravitate towards, even if you think you know better. How do I know? I lived it.
What other excuses do you tell yourself to justify staying in a bad situation? If you really looked at them, these excuses that you tell yourself, how valid would they be? How many other people deal with the same circumstances and come out just fine?