The pain and mental strain brought on you by divorce is intense on its own. The breakup of your foundation, the marital ideal we all sought back when we were married is incredible. As a father, add to that the burden of guilt and pain you also carry by damaging the family bedrock that has been a foundation for your children through their lives. The stress you will experience will be without equal. For many of us though, myself included, you may have the added pain and mental stress created by an unfaithful spouse. It reminds me of those smoothie stores where they keep adding something of this and that to the blender to make it even more special!
In my years of flying, it was guaranteed that when one thing went wrong, others would follow. I never had engine malfunctions on beautiful clear sky days. They always happened in the goo with bad weather still ahead. As the problems kept piling on, we came up with the term helmet fire. The problems kept coming until you just couldn’t process anymore and smoke was pouring out your ears. Divorce with kids pushes you to a helmet fire on its own. Add infidelity to the mix and you have just pushed the pain meter beyond pegged. Three main areas are key when dealing with the burden of an unfaithful spouse during your divorce. The first area is about you, the second is about the kids, and the last involves your legal divorce position. Basically this falls in line with my common theme of taking care of yourself, your kids, and your case. For now, let’s focus on you. In my next blog, I’ll address the kids, followed by your case.
Regarding yourself, adultery will hit you at your core. I’m sure the impact is similar for women. For you, as a man, having your wife cheat on you stings like nothing else. The intimacy was between the two of you. For us, we begin to question our very manhood, our abilities as a partner, along with having our belief in every being able to trust again torn to shreds. You may wonder what was wrong with you that drove her to another man, or what needs were you not meeting. Friends, therapists, and family will try to reassure you that the cause was not physical, but rather her need for intimacy that was lost that led her away. It sounds nice, but it won’t ease the pain. I’m here to tell you that they are right and that it will take a very long time for you to believe it. Logically you will follow it, but be prepared for a long road before you actually reach a peaceful understanding. Understanding the basis for your ex’s behavior is important to answering your questions and moving on.
To me, there are two types of cheaters. The first type is the habitual cheater. She’s the type that has a long history of cheating. Many cheat often during the relationship, likely from the beginning. For these types, it is easier to recognize the problem is on their end. Many are in love with being in love. Once the newness and initial fever of love wears off, they lose interest in the longer term relationship. The long-term love is more rewarding, but requires work and effort to sustain. The real danger for you in these cases is being too harsh on yourself, thinking you should have known based on her past or should have seen the signs. Always remember how imperfect we are and take comfort in the knowledge that this is her character flaw, one that has been there before you and will likely be there after you. Don’t waste too much energy trying to understand why. Her flaw here is outside your control and you need to keep your energy focused where you can control. It doesn’t help the sting, but you can take comfort in knowing the majority of the issues are in her camp.
The other type of cheater is the one that develops over time and is symptomatic of the relationship. Experts will categorize the majority of marital infidelity examples in this category, where the adultery was a result of missing elements within the marriage over time. So many of these are not immediate, but instead take time to develop. Kids appear, work demands increase, and over time intimacy or efforts to maintain the marriage fade. The cheater may not even realize what is missing until someone steps in and fills the void. The infidelity may not even be physical, but could just be an emotional cheating where another person steps in and fills the confidant role that you as the husband used to provide. Initially the why doesn’t matter. Your trust has been shattered and what you took as stable has fallen apart.
You will be filled with many emotions, such as hurt, betrayal, and anger. All these are normal. For you it is important to acknowledge where you are and that it is ok to have these feelings. You can’t hide them, because they will never have a chance to heal and really go away, as opposed to just hiding waiting for you to deal with them later. As men today we are hard-wired to suppress these feelings as a sign of weakness. Instead, set the simple goal to accept these feelings, recognize the time you need ahead, and work to not let them dominate you, especially anger. You have many details to work as you separate, divorce, as well as help your children through the divorce. Anger, fueled by hurt, will only spoil the efforts to reach a final divorce and can spill over into your efforts to help your children transition into their new divorced households world.
Everything I state is the right path, but I am fully aware how difficult it will be. I lived it and I stumbled often. When it became very difficult to not let the hurt and anger spill into my decisions, I was successful by reminding myself of how I wanted to be defined. The affair and the betrayal was not how I wanted to be defined or remembered. Allowing the anger to fuel my decisions gave it too much control over me. It gave her and her actions control of my future. I wanted to define that. Vow to yourself to define the future. It will require learning from the past, but you have control there. Be the man and the father you want to be. You will slip, and that is normal and ok. But you can learn what triggered the slip and learn to avoid it. I promise a peace will come and recognition that the experts are right will settle in. It will take time, but it will come. In the meantime, direct your focus on just giving yourself a break. Accept the fact that you are hurt and seek to be ok with that. In time, and with much thought, you will understand how the adultery had nothing to do with your manhood. Give yourself time and that will help you find some peace today, just knowing you have a road ahead but that true peace will come.