It was an embarrassingly long number of years after my divorce before I finally had an enlightening realization about my husband’s multiple affairs. His cheating had nothing to do with me.
I caught my husband sexting while we were celebrating the night before a friend’s wedding. While we sat in the rental car in silence as I waited for him to speak, I was 100% certain he’d tell me he was leaving me for someone else.
For years after he left, I felt like a complete failure as a wife, that I wasn’t good enough to make my husband happy. I thought his cheating meant there was something wrong with me – that I was defective, a bad lover and an awful wife.
It didn’t occur to me that his cheating was his issue.
I believed he cheated because I was defective. But he had a character deficiency.
We mutually agreed on having a monogamous marriage. He knew my feelings about infidelity; that it wasn’t something our marriage would endure.
His fast-track career success, admiration from actresses and executives eroded his good-natured personality and eventually contorted his character. But instead of seeing the changes taking place before my eyes, I felt ashamed when he told me I didn’t listen to him. I felt inadequate when he said I didn’t admire him enough. I felt I’d failed him when he said I didn’t respect him.
I thought his cheating meant he didn’t respect me. But he didn’t respect himself.
I’ve experienced a lack of self-respect and it led to behavior that I would never consider engaging in today. One of the most healing sentences I read was from Mary Manin Morrissey’s book, “Building Your Field of Dreams.” In it, she writes, “People who do hurtful things are hurting inside themselves.”
When I read those words I was overcome with compassion for my ex. It had never occurred to me that he was in emotional turmoil. I reflected on the times when I’d said or done hurtful things to others or myself. It was always when I was in spiritual or emotional pain.
I thought his cheating meant I was unattractive. But he feared deep intimacy.
It’s natural for us to feel so deeply rejected when a partner cheats. Of course we’ll question our sexual desirability and prowess. I pictured the girls he’d been having sex with as skinny young nymphomaniacs with porn-star skills.
But through my years of self-growth, therapy, coaching and introspection, I’ve come to see that our marriage wasn’t capable of truly connected intimacy. Throughout our seventeen-year relationship it was a rare occasion that he’d express his feelings without my coaxing; which to him probably sounded like nagging.
And maybe at times I was nagging. But I know that healthy communication is a balance of give and take, not push and pull. And a deep, intimate bond is created from the trust you vulnerably give to your partner.
Intimacy would have given my husband the courage to say he felt like something was missing from our marriage before he started sleeping around.
I thought I caused his unhappiness. But he was responsible for his feelings.
In my marriage, I didn’t have the awareness that we are each responsible for our own feelings and emotions. I believed I was the cause of his anger and criticism. Having that belief drained me of any autonomy. I saw my self-value as a reflection of what he thought of me.
It’s easy for us to accuse our spouse of, making us feel unloved, angry or unhappy. But there is a subtle yet powerful shift once we claim our own emotions. I have learned that I am responsible for my own feelings that stem from my history, my experiences and perceptions, my pain points and my self-awareness.
And thankfully, I’ve learned to claim my own happiness.