It is not your fault

by Rudd-O published 2017/04/23 20:35:00 GMT+0, last modified 2017-04-26T18:11:41+00:00
A collection of practical tips and notes on surviving infidelity.

Cheating is fundamentally an attempt to enjoy the benefits of the primary relationship while also enjoying the benefits of the affair relationship.  For most cheaters it's all working nicely enough, thank you very much — right up to the point they get caught and then scramble to try to stay in the relationship that was supposedly "not working".

An affair is not a "mistake", nor is it by any means accidental.  It is a chain of selfish, hurtful, dishonest, deliberate decisions and actions.  Do not accept "it was a mistake" as a pretext.

There should be questions asked after an affair comes to light.  It is important that the faithful spouse questions staying in a relationship with someone who deliberately behaves harmfully and unethically towards them in response to dissatisfaction.  "Sorry, but I wasn't happy" doesn't even begin to address that, or the underlying fuck you that an affair contains.

The faithful spouse is rarely blind to any issues that did exist — they are, after all, in the same relationship.  However, to consider those issues as causative is misguided — it is the cheater's response that causes an affair (founded in their own thinking and world view), not their dissatisfaction within the relationship. Cheating is an internally directed issue, not an externally directed one.

It is very important to make the proper distinction between the choice to betray from the state of the relationship.  If you do not make this distinction, then your wayward partner will be all too happy to cite the state of the relationship as a pretext to continue betraying you.

Dissatisfaction in a relationship does not entitle someone to cheat — it entitles them to leave.  If a relationship isn't working for one partner, a reasonable, ethical, and rational response would be to exit that relationship or to attempt to ethically address the issues one perceives.  As for the clichéd "IT WASN'T WORKING" pretext... clearly, it was working enough for the cheater to stay in it and cheat on the side.

You could have been the most hideously screeching harpy, arguing all day long, playing scratch and sniff with your crotch in front of house guests, and braiding your pubic hair down your leg and waggling it under her nose at the dinner table - but so what?

Yes, these things might have made you a pretty hideous husband and probably in need of house training and carbolic soap, but how does that make you even partially responsible for how she decides to respond to those things? It doesn't.  All this means is that you contributed to the tone of the environment from which she made her choices. It does not make you part of that choice and it does not make you responsible for it, not even partly.

She had choices and they were entirely her own. The traditional rush to making infidelity a shared, couple, or marital problem, bizarrely avoids looking at the issue of individual agency in one's choices.  The 'shared blame' approach though can be attractive to all involved and this is why it is so easily accepted and widespread, despite it not having any reasonable or rational basis:

  1. For the cheater, shifting blame allows them to feel justified in their abusive choices while preserving their self-view.
  2. For the faithful spouse, if they claim some degree of ownership of the problem then they can also claim some degree of the cure — and most faithful spouses are desperate fixers.  What can a faithful spouse fix?  Themselves.  Claiming partial responsibility is a trick of the ego: "If I am the problem then I am also the solution, therefore I have some control."
  3. The marital recovery industry relies entirely on the dysfunction of couples to sustain it, and infidelity provides dysfunction in spades — especially if the cause of the problem (the cheater) is not addressed and is instead encouraged to blame things which were not the cause (the spouse, the marriage, the failure to be pandered to, the price of fish, the neighbor's garden gnomes etc).

Always keep this in mind: You cannot fix them.  You can only fix yourself.

One of the most difficult things to process when you discover an affair is your change in perception of your partner.  Prior to finding out, you have this image of your partner as a trustworthy person you can count on.  After the affair, you see your partner for what she really is.  You would like to believe the pretty lie that she is not this horribly selfish and dishonest person, but the facts don't let you.  Getting over your incorrect beliefs about your partner is extremely hard.  Yes, your partner acted unethically and selfishly.  This you must accept.  More importantly, if there is any hope of reconciliation, they must accept that they acted in this manner.

If you forgive the first affair after your partner acted remorsefully, but your partner does not do the necessary self-development work to understand the fundamental causes of why they cheated, beware: they will do it again and, the next time, they will do it shamelessly and unremorsefully, they will blame you for her actions, and they will attempt to take it out on you.

After the first time my wayward spouse had an affair, she dropped to her knees and bawled her eyes out, sobbing while saying "I'm so sorry, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me, I need you, please stay with me".  She was right — I was the best thing that ever happened to her, and she knew it full well when she proposed to me.  But none of it mattered in the end.  Four years later — when she was cheating again — exactly zero words of that (allegedly heartfelt) apology seemed to be even remembered.

As a general rule, people who don't understand or refuse to process the underlying motives for their actions, will commit those actions again and again.

In the midst of the affair, the thrill of having someone interested in you, the expectation of waiting for that person to contact you, and the sexual arousal coming from imagining and remembering acts with that person, make the cheater feel alive.  In parallel, the cheater develops a form of doublethink to rationalize their simultaneous cheating and staying in their primary relationship.  This doublethink — often called the Affair Fog — is incredibly potent — no reasoned argument can penetrate it.

Avoid trying to reason your partner into sense, and accept the reality that your betraying partner is going to be behaving like an alien.  Submit everything they say through the finest B.S. test there is — if what they are saying was reversed (so that you are they and they are you), would they (or any other person for that matter) consider it sensible, reasonable or just?

You will feel inadequate as you go about the puzzle of why your partner betrayed you.  Is the other person better than me?  Am I so shitty that my partner just had to cheat?  What does the other person give my partner that I lack?

This is perfectly normal.  It's also something you need to overcome quickly.  Use the following eternal truths to guide you away from it:

  1. The other person is such a loser, they could not attract anything better than a cheater... and they know it.  Looking at it from the cheater's perspective: I'd say that at very least you already know the cheater is committing adultery with someone willing to cheat with a married person.  That right there already means the cheater is "affairing down".
  2. The other person is very likely a scrub in comparison to you.  In fact, this is precisely why the other person is the other person, rather than the main partner.  Don't believe this?  Use Google to compare Arnie Schwarzenegger's wife and her affair partner.  Try Tiger Woods next.  If these ultra-famous people slum it on the side, what are the chances that your (very much average) partner is cheating on you with a prince?  When you see the other person, your reaction to your cheating partner will almost certainly be "wait, you were cheating on me with that?"  Personally speaking, I almost had a laughter-induced syncope when I found out whom my wayward partner was cheating with.
  3. You must have something good about you — at least good enough that your cheating partner decides to stick around while two-timing you.  Otherwise, your cheating partner would have simply packed their bags long ago.
  4. It does not matter "what the other person offers that you don't".  Betrayal is not a legitimate way to fulfill unmet needs.  Discussion, negotiation and self-improvement are.

Remember: they cheat, not because you lack something, but because they lack something.  Cheating is not going to give them that something they lack — only self-development will.

Beware your partner frequently expressing fear that you will abandon her ("for a younger, prettier person", as I was repeatedly told by a wayward partner of mine).  This is an indicator that your partner may cheat on you.  How can we know this?  Because insecure, needy people are especially prone to attention-seeking behavior, and cheating provides an incredibly potent source of attention.  The attention that an affair provides is like catnip for insecure people.  And, of course, the obvious one: if your partner is thinking that you may leave her at any moment, chances are, that person is probably thinking of doing the same thing themselves, or they don't feel that they deserve you... and they may very well act to sabotage their relationship.  As a general rule, we tend to cause the things we believe about ourselves to be realized.

Also beware potential partners with self-destructive / self-harm tendencies.  Even if they manage to stop or mitigate these tendencies, they often tend to sublimate into other types of acts that destroy your relationship instead.  Cheating is one of them.

Standard caveat: if the disorder was correctly diagnosed and is properly treated on an ongoing basis, then your risks as a partner will be lower.

Bipolar and borderline women are especially prone to cheating.  I cannot insist enough on this: do not marry one if you want to avoid being miserable.  It is bad enough that 40% of marriages end in divorce, but bipolar marriages end in divorce 90% of the time.

The standard caveat applies: if the disorder was correctly diagnosed and is properly treated on an ongoing basis, then your risks as a partner will be lower.

Male-specific advice: women who have more non-marital sexual partners are (a) more likely to have STDs (b) less likely to have stable marriages (c) less likely to be happy (d) more likely to be depressed.  Thus, if you want a happy marriage, choose to marry women with low partner count, all else equal.

Big caveat: note that low partner count is no guarantee of anything.  For example, you should not choose a woman who is insecure and has poor self-image.  In fact, avoid such women like the plague.

Do not accept lies, dishonesty and deceit from anyone.  You deserve the truth.  Settle for nothing less than that.

You are under no obligation to forgive or to forget betrayal.  People who betray you are not your friends — they are your enemies.  They want you to suffer or, at least, they don't care that what they do makes you suffer.  So treat them accordingly.

When you discover that you have been cheated on, it is not the time to be a "good partner".  It is the time to be an assertive one.  Do not shower your partner with affection or attention.  Do not do the "pick me dance" either.  If you do any of that, you will strengthen their internal emotional association between "I cheat" and "I get feel-good kibbles".

Remember that you are the strong one.  You are the one who stuck to your principles and saw them through.  You may not be in control of your partner — heck, your partner is out of control even of themselves — but you are in control of yourself.

Trickle truth: cheating partners almost never tell the truth when they are caught or they reveal details of their affairs.  They will instead give a trickle of details over a long period of time, enhancing their story bit by bit.  Oh, he's just a coworker.  Oh, we met in the parking lot and he flirted with me.  Oh, well, yes, we kissed, but I didn't like it.  Okay, I kissed him for five minutes.  Alright, it wasn't just a kiss — he also touched my private parts.  Okay, we fucked in the shower at the company, but we used a condom.  No, really, now that I remember, we didn't use a condom that one time.  Alright, we've been doing it bareback for weeks.  This, my dear reader, is what is known as  trickle truth.

Nip it in the bud:

  1. If you want to break it off right then and there, it's your right to do so.  At this point, you do not need to find out anything more about the affair.
  2. Assuming you want to stay in the relationship, insist on a full account of all related events, with as much corroborating evidence as possible.  Be very clear with your partner — if they tell a lie, when you find out, it'll all be over.  Below are tips on how to gather this information.

You will hate, as you untangle the web of lies of your wayward partner.  This is normal.  In fact, it would be abnormal if you didn't feel hate.  One thing to keep in mind is that your partner — as well as people partial to your partner — almost assuredly will attempt to make you feel shame or guilt for this emotion (and quite a few others).  Make sure to resist those attempts.  It is your process.

The cheater's cascade: After an affair, the cheater completely rewrites the description of their main relationship, and their personal history within in, so as to make their affair seem almost inevitable.  They exaggerate any preexisting problems, begin to see things that didn't bother them before as problems, and sometimes they outright invent problems that simply weren't there.

John Gottman has described "the cheater's cascade":

  1. The first thing that happens is secret-keeping.
  2. Then the cheater builds emotional walls with their partner, choosing to confide in a person outside their relationship.
  3. Then the cheater begins trashing the current partner and relationship to the other person.
  4. Then, warranted or not, the cheater changes their mind about their partner and begins to consider them untrustworthy.
  5. Finally, the cheater is primed for a sexual relationship outside their relatonship.

After these steps in the cascade has happened, that's when the cheater has formally rewritten the history of their relationship.

As the betrayed partner, there's a chance that your wayward partner will reason herself into the belief that things with you were horrible, things with the other person are much better, and therefore they will want to stay with the other person.  This may feel like a one-two to the chest, but you must keep in mind that this belief is part of the stereotypical delusional thinking of cheaters, and that the delusion will not last long.

It is very easy for the cheater to delude themselves that things are great with the "new toy".  They haven't lived together, so they haven't had to face the everyday realities of living with each other.  They haven't had to spend — and pull through — bad times together.  They practically don't know each other.  On top of that, there's the butterflies-in-stomach dopamine rush of the new relationship.   Of course it's going to feel amazing... for a little while.  Then, reality sets in, they discover that their new partner is, in fact, human, and they discover the dimension of their fuckup.  FYI, about 75% of marriages that start as affairs end in divorce. And that is of those that go from affair to marriage.  Affairs are full of forbidden romance and new relationship energy, and that goes away when you try to live like adults.

If, at this point, your cheater decides to ask you to reconcile, stand firm.  You must know, deep in your bones, what you truly are worth.  Are you worth a cheater?

If you find that you've been betrayed, be prepared for DARVO from your cheating partner.  Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.

To bring up concrete examples of what I mean: a wayward partner of mine lied through her teeth both to me and to others, implying that I had broken up with her for capricious reasons.  I distinctly remember that, when I asked her why she didn't push us into a couples counselor, she said she was afraid of me for a long time.  She accused me of gaslighting her for years, as a response to me reminding her that she'd proclaimed "my friends said kissing wasn't cheating" about her affair.  She screamed at the top of her lungs that I should stop "meddling in her life", in response to me telling friends and family what I knew about her second and final betrayal that prompted me to end the relationship.

To quote the great Chump Lady, "Of course it did.  It always takes an affair to 'realize' you’re in an abusive situation. People just never come to those realizations themselves until someone else fucks them."

Again, the best defense against DARVO is to be prepared.  Being prepared, in this context, means being honest and direct with family and friends about what happened — explaining to them what facts you know, what conclusions you have reached, and what suppositions you're starting from.  You know your cheating partner is going to try and portray you as a controlling / violent / horrible monster of a person, because they feel that makes their own behavior "okay".  So be prepared by enlisting the truth on your side.

Assuming that you want to rebuild your relationship after an affair, the tried-and-true battery of tactics to recover a relationship from infidelity is:

  1. No contact:
    Insist that the betraying partner have no further contact of any form with the other person.  Demand that they write a brief no contact letter, then have them send the letter.  If they work together, the betraying partner must quit — otherwise, the affair will continue and you will be none the wiser.
  2. Full transparency:
    Impose radical transparency as a new, ongoing, permanent fixture of the relationship.  Whereabouts, communications, et cetera — nothing will be secret anymore.  Do it all upfront.  Do not let your partner dig into their data by themselves — do the digging yourself, with your partner watching, and watch your partner's body language as you do it, looking for tells that you're about to hit some valuable information they'd rather you not learn about.  Ignore the clichéd complaints from your partner that you are violating their privacy — if they didn't want to give privacy up, then maybe they should not have misused their privacy to cheat on you.
  3. Tell your loved ones:
    Make sure that your best friends and family know what is going on with you, and are aware of what your partner has done.  If you feel shame about telling people, you must get over it.  It is not your fault that you were betrayed.
  4. Tell others affected by the affair:
    Is your betraying partner cheating on you with a coworker?  Tell the boss of that coworker — most companies have strict policies that prohibit such behavior.  Is the other person married?  Track down their spouse, then tell them their partner is cheating — show them all the evidence you can obtain.
  5. Consequences:
    Prepare to leave without hesitation, should they refuse to comply, attempt to continue the affair, or hide certain behaviors from you.  If you are married and living together, and you make the decision to execute on this, then they should leave.  You keep the home.
  6. Self-improvement:
    In parallel, work yourself into a more attractive, better version of yourself.  Importantly, you won't be doing this for the sake of your partner — you are simply preparing yourself to continue your life without your partner.  Target a mindset of independence from outcome.  In your life, you come first.

Note that the standard battery, while necessary, is not actually sufficient to effect permanent change.  The cheater must do the necessary self-development work (psychoanalysis, journaling, et cetera) to discover the underlying causes of their behavior.  Else the behavior will just repeat itself in the future.

Remember: problems are never fixed until their causes are solved.

"What went wrong?" conversations with an unrepentant cheater aren't actually about what went wrong — they are about how "you made them cheat".  As a betrayed partner, in a state of limerence and desperately seeking an explanation for the betrayal, you are especially vulnerable to falling for that manipulative trick.  You will feel strongly compelled to shouldering fault for things that aren't your fault, suggested into believing that you did bad things you didn't actually do, and manipulated into thinking that certain things you said or did were wrong when they actually weren't.  You'll also feel the urge to beg, appease, and do anything to get the cheater back.

I'm speaking from experience here: the one time I went for an explanation from a betraying partner of mine, she gave me a list of complaints about me (which included a few legitimate ones, but most were either the product of projection or rewritten lived history)... and I actually believed her for a brief while.

You are better off avoiding that kind of conversation.  Remember: the state of your relationship prior to the affair may partially be your responsibility, but their cheating is not your fault.  And keep this in mind: the unrepentant cheater — just like any other selfish, inconsiderate prick — does not deserve your explanations, your honesty, or your sympathy, because they themselves failed to deliver those to you.

If he / she does it with you, he / she'll do it to you.

Secrets and lies kill relationships.  What's done in darkness always comes to light.

Betrayal doesn't tarnish the betrayed.  It tarnishes the betrayer.

When in doubt, always believe the actions over the words.