Could you ever truly feel special again?
I'd like you to ask yourself this question, imagining that your spouse has cheated on you. Don't downplay it -- feel the shock and horror, the full magnitude of his/her betrayal. Not only did he exchange bodily fluids and pillow talk with someone else, he snuck around and lied to your face over and over again, while you were what -- at home caring for the kids? Working extra hours to pay for an upcoming vacation? Cooking the family dinner?
The reality of your love, your shared life together, is about to be rewritten -- and have no qualms about it, it's penned with the blood of your heart.
Some say that with "courage" and "hard work," a marriage can be rebuilt stronger than ever. But drawing from both personal and professional experience working with victims of infidelity, I believe that "stronger than ever" is the exception, not the norm; that a "mediocre" marriage is the best most can achieve (and pfft, who wants mediocre?!). And though I always encourage couples to 100 per cent commit to trying to save their marriage, except in the case of domestic abuse, I caution them to put time markers/limits on it. For the reality is that people can only change and forgive so much, and their "courage" and "hard work" may be better spent divorcing and starting over.
Whatever the words "hard work" mean to you, you'll need to multiply that by 10 to even begin understanding what's involved in rebuilding a marriage after an affair. Each person not only has to deal with individual feelings like shame, guilt, blame, anger, embarrassment, resentment, denial, mistrust, lust (and then some), they THEN have to learn to trust, love and communicate with each other in higher ways or ways they've never done before.
Sound exhausting? It is. But here's another nugget for you: a lot of people simply don't have the desire -- or the capability -- to wade through the all the emotional garbage to make the changes staying together requires. So again, keep in mind how much of YOUR life you are willing to potentially waste taking this risk.
If all this hard work gets you nowhere, it doesn't mean he's a bad person or she's a bad person, nor must it mean he's not giving 100 per cent or neither is she. Liken it to two people, tied together, who are stuck in a pool of garbage, desperately using what personal resources they have to try and stay afloat. Like it or not, cutting the ropes between them may the only way they each start living -- not just surviving -- again.
My ex-husband and I did everything the therapists and books told us to do in the aftermath of his affair. With three kids, a home and a life we'd built together, we had a lot on the line and we were 100 per cent committed to making it work.
But after two years of courageously "working hard," I finally came to the decision that it was time to end it. Deep down I knew that I had changed and what I needed in a partner had changed. He simply wasn't capable of being that person -- never would be. And it wasn't fair to either one of us to allow our marriage vows, which we'd made in our 20s when we were so naïve and inexperienced in life and love, to hold us prisoner in a marriage for the rest of our lives.
Despite my decision to divorce him, it's important I mention that I forgave my ex-husband for his affair. Yes, that's right -- I forgave him but still didn't want him (*Grin). But what was the alternative? To allow my harboured anger and hurt to contaminate my soul and all future relationships? Forgiveness to me meant extracting the many lessons I learned from our time together, feeling grateful for them and acknowledging the good, bad and humanity of my former spouse. It meant allowing our marriage to transform into friendship so that the two of us could effectively co-parent. It meant accepting that this stage, this cycle of my life was over, and trusting that from the ashes of death, new beginnings would shoot and grow.
One thing I know for sure is that whether a person decides to stay or go in the wake of an affair, he/she is going to be tested and tested hard -- there's no escaping it. The changes that lie ahead on either path will bring her face to face with her weaknesses, fears, and the dark sides of her character. And more than once, she'll find herself stumbling, falling and nursing new cuts and bruises.
But as a woman who chose the divorce path, I can also speak to the adventure, joy and personal growth I experienced. From navigating the dating/sex trenches and learning how to single parent, to tidying up my family's finances and charting a new career for myself, I uncovered strength, passion, and a level of self-respect I'd never experienced before.
And as for ever truly feeling special again, I know what that feels like again too; it's four years later and I'm with a man who is faithful and true, who mirrors the fuller person I am today.
Thank God I never settled for "mediocre." Would YOU?
Delaine shares how she rediscovered passion during the first year of her divorce in her just released memoir, The Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom.
Follow Delaine Moore on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Delaine_Moore