Rebuilding My PastPosted: January 23, 2015 Filed under: Affair, Recovery | Tags: Affair, Infidelity, Information, Marriage 18 Comments
Imagine that you woke up one day and realized that all of your memories from the past couple of years were false. Everything that you understand in your current life is based on your memories of past events, of how you got to the moment that you’re in now. How much confidence could you have in your present life and your current relationships if those memories suddenly became unreliable? Your first reaction to such an experience would most likely be to dig for answers, to reconstruct your memories according to reality. Whether or not those memories were more pleasant than the ones you previously held would be secondary to your obsession with discovering the truth, and you would most likely be willing to restructure your view of the present according to that newly discovered reality.
This is how I felt upon discovering my wife’s affair. I suddenly realized that my memories from the past two years were inaccurate, but I had no idea what reality was. Before I could focus on any attempt at moving forward, I had to reconstruct my memories of the past. I needed to know when the affair started and how I could have been so blind to it. I needed to know significant dates when my wife was with the other guy instead of with our family. I needed to hear the truth behind lies that I been told. Most of this wouldn’t be pleasant for me to hear, but at least it would be real.
The problem was that as I started to get those details, they tainted my existing memories. A family event that I used to look back on fondly now just felt like a façade masking our turmoil. An evening that I spent alone with our two kids now just represented my ignorance as I recalled the lie my wife used to get out of the house. On one particular Saturday, I took the kids to a college volleyball game. I later checked the phone records and realized that she had used our absence to spend the afternoon with the other guy. A positive memory of a great day with children was stolen from me and replaced with ugly thoughts of the affair.
I found myself confronted with conflicting goals. I needed sufficient details of the affair to reconstruct my past, yet those details consumed me and tainted my positive memories. My initial reaction was to try to suppress the negative thoughts, to be content with the information I had and put the past behind me. But that would mean that my wife and I would have to essentially pretend that those events never occurred and never discuss them. How could we build a marriage based on mutual trust when such a significant event in our lives was off limits? How could I have an honest relationship with my wife if I was forever left with lingering doubts that I had been given the full story?
Rather than trying to suppress the details of the affair, we had countless conversations about it. Those were thoughts that were going haunt me anyway, so there was no point in making a futile attempt to avoid them. I learned all about the other guy, confirmed suspicions that I had regarding specific dates and events, even asked details about the sex. While it was obviously painful, forcing myself to thoroughly confront that information addressed a variety of symptoms of the affair.
Your pride takes an enormous hit when you learn that your spouse has been having an affair without your knowledge. I felt stupid for believing lies she told me. I felt foolish as I recalled smug comments I had made over the years about our great life and solid marriage. I felt naïve that I never considered an affair the remotest of possibilities. But uncovering the details of that affair helped to restore my pride. I may have been stupid and naïve in the past, but at least I was being intelligent now. While it may have taken some time, I did discover those secrets. My wife and the other guy were now the ones who looked naïve for thinking that they could keep the affair a secret from me.
Married couples are supposed to share exclusive information with one another. They share special moments and have knowledge about one another that no one else has. One of the most difficult things for me to deal with was the knowledge that my wife and the other guy shared those things while I was an outsider to their relationship. As I learned more about affair, I took that exclusive information from them. Just like my positive memories became tainted by my knowledge of the affair, her memories now had to include the pain and embarrassment of revealing them to me. It was as if the affair could only survive as long as its details remained hidden, and I could dismantle it piece by piece as I slowly uncovered its secrets.
A person who I had never met knew intimate details about my life. The other guy had information about me and about my marriage that even I didn’t know. He was my wife’s confidante while I knew absolutely nothing about him. Having influence over my wife gave him an influence in my marriage that he didn’t deserve. As I learned more intimate details about him and the affair, I slowly diffused that power and shifted it to me. I had previously felt completely inferior to this person as my wife desired him enough to risk destroying our family. But now he became a vulnerable and flawed individual who was finally being confronted with the justified results of his actions.
I saw a news story recently where a woman’s ex-boyfriend posted risqué pictures of her on the internet. She responded by publicly posting her own nude photos in a more flattering context. Rather than play the role of victim, she took control of the situation and removed the only power that her ex-boyfriend had over her. In a similar way, by directly confronting the details of the affair, I diffused its power over me. I don’t have to avoid those ugly thoughts anymore because they don’t have the visceral effect on me that they used to. The affair has just become another chapter in our marriage, and we’re more likely to joke about it now than argue about it. It’s difficult for something to have power over you when you’ve reduced it to a punch line.
“A person who I had never met knew intimate details about my life. The other guy had information about me and about my marriage that even I didn’t know. ”
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain to my husband what hurts so badly about who he chose as the other woman, and this is it. Someone else knew details about my marriage, namely that my husband was unhappy enough to pursue adultery, and I had no idea. In my situation, I knew her. For years, she acted hateful and smug towards me and I always assumed she simply had a crush on my husband and disliked me because I was his wife. The truth is this, she knew more about my marriage state than I did. And oh, that hurts so badly.
As always, I appreciate your level headed expression of a situation that inspires anything but a level headed response.
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That was a huge issue for me – feeling like an outsider in my own marriage and realizing that I had been a significant topic of conversation (and not in a good way) that I knew nothing about. It made it worse knowing that a couple of her friends knew about it, and I know of at least once case where one of them actively help them keep me from finding out about the affair. It took a long time to get the confidence that I was the insider again.
I really appreciate that line “level headed expression of a situation that inspires anything but a level headed response”. I was anything but level headed for a long time. In fact, I think I was flirting with insanity for the first couple of months. I sound rational now because it’s been two years since the affair ended. Trust me, you’ll get there.
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I wonder sometimes if it would have been easier for me if I had told my wife every last detail. We reached a point early on where we both agreed to put an end to the questions as a way to move forward and heal as a couple. We were both pressured by a therapist to put everything behind us and focus on the future. As a result, I had all these awful memories of what happened that I alone had to bear. I was doing the best thing for my wife. Until I read your post, I was sure it was better for her not to know all those intimate, revealing details. Now I’m not so sure. Good, thought-provoking post.
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I’m certainly no therapist and can only speak for myself. I tried multiple times to put the past behind me, but it never worked. I still have a list of questions that I made to ask her with the intention being that I would agree to forget the past once I had those answers. That was naïve as hell as I wasn’t remotely close to satisfied.
To clarify though, I was the one asking questions as opposed to my wife proactively giving me information I didn’t want. I hope that I didn’t imply it wasn’t hell every time I had to hear something new. I’ll talk some more about that in my next post.
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No, I think I took it right. There were a few things I told her because they needed to be said, but mostly I didn’t want to make things worse by volunteering information she wasn’t ready to ask for. There were some questions I didn’t answer because I was seriously concerned she might harm herself. I was probably wrong, but looking back we’re both amazed that neither of us did any serious self-harm. We probably should have voluntarily committed ourselves.
Anyway, what’s done is done and I’m not inclined to rip open any old wounds nearly two years later.
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Wow.. that is an interesting take on how you view it. It’s strange I knew the woman all too well. I knew about the random things she likes and didn’t like.
I know more about her than M ever did.
Besides having sex with an icky, lying person.
Somehow I sometimes do the grass is greener scenario thinking it would be easier to get over had I not known her.
Had we not become like sisters.
I hate them both ever so much in so many different ways.
However it’s a quieter hate and I wonder if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.. 🙂
Thanks for your perspective it was fascinating.
Your situation definitely sounds different than mine. I have no idea if I would have felt differently had I known the other guy.
Well, for me it was not 2 years, but a total of 15 years and 3 women. And I have asked my husband every question I could think of in order to find the same solace you sought and achieved. Unfortunately, my husband is a pathological liar and I still have a recurring nightmare that I sit across the table from his 8-year affair partner (who has been stalking me for a year) and she laughs at me because she knew things about my husband that I did not know, and then she proceeds to tell me all kinds of things my husband never told me… and then I do not know who to believe, because they are both crazy. Obviously I still have some healing to do. Great post!
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My wife certainly did her share of lying, but I am confident now that I’m getting the truth. I actually talk about that in my next post. This all only works if the cheating spouse is equally committed to rebuilding the marriage.
Yes, my husband is “committed” to rebuilding the marriage, but he is a sex addict and his wounds run deep, as they say. His journey is not just about our marriage, but about fixing what is seriously broken in him. It helps me only in the fact that I know he was broken before I met him, and also there was nothing I could have done to change his path. We have been together for 30 years, and he has been lying to me for all 30. Old habits die hard. It took a delusional stalker woman to call me and tell me about their relationship because she is crazy, and also she was led to believe that I am a horrible woman and wife. With addicts, they say they never come completely clean as they truly believe that that one little piece of information they are keeping back is the one thing that will send everyone good in their life packing. After a year of trickling disclosures, at least I now believe, whatever secrets are left cannot really hurt me. Now it is more about healing from the pain of the betrayal and learning to trust.
I look forward to reading your next post.
“His journey is not just about our marriage, but about fixing what is seriously broken in him.” I think that’s true of many affairs. I’ve talked about this a bit in previous posts and will definitely post more about it. In our case, most of the personal changes were actually on my side, but we both went through significant personal analysis and changes in our efforts to improve our marriage.
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This is a great post, thank you. You articulate this scenario so well and it resonates deeply with me. I wanted the dates, times and venues, who knew, and some of the sexual stuff as well. I got it. It was painful but there was something cathartic in it for me and I think, after reading your post, that it was about having the power shift from her knowing about me to me knowing about her. We are two years into our recovery and I find myself reluctant to bring up the adultery in conversation anymore because it feels like I’m flogging a dead horse! However, there are still realisations that come to me that haven’t filtered through until now and this can still cause the awful gut reaction and flashback experience. I now can’t believe I didn’t put one and one together at the time – you know, him having a night away from home (for work!) near Valentine’s day and near his birthday and Christmas. Why wasn’t I more alert to these obvious clues? I do know why. I had never been betrayed before.
“it was about having the power shift from her knowing about me to me knowing about her” – exactly!!!
I think we can all relate to feeling naïve and blind. Something else I plan to do a post about.
I agree that finding that a stranger was given intimate details about my life, by the man I was supposed to trust most in my life, is the most painful part of discovering the affair.
I was sent copies of emails by the other woman, that is how I found out about a two year affair my husband was conducting at work during early mornings and lunches at work, as well as on nights when he was supposedly out with is longtime group of men friends.
Sadly in those emails the other woman was trashing me for silly things, really, but trashing nonetheless, and I was so sad to see that my husband eagerly joined her in trashing me, too.
Later, the shrink pointed out that the things they were belittling were actually admirable traits.
Still, the fact that my own husband was willing to make me the butt of his jokes all for a piece of ass, haunts me.
Thank you for your honestly and for putting into words what so many of us have experienced. I’ve reflected on this post here: http://infidelitybookclub.blogspot.com/2015/06/rebuilding-my-past-cerebralspouse.html.
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I’m glad you were able to relate to this. I read your post and found it quite insightful as well. Recovery sure as hell isn’t easy, but it has been worth it. Sounds like it’s been worth it to you as well.