Has anybody looked under the rug lately? I bet it’s a mess. We’ve got to stop sweeping stuff under there.
Especially the fallout of personal betrayals, whatever flavor of betrayal you happen to be tasting.
This week I attended our third co-parenting counseling session. All that I am obligated to attend as a requirement of the marital settlement agreement. There is a fourth session on the books for next week. I’ll go. And that will be the last. It’s not that she isn’t effective. She provides a safe forum to reinforce the importance of keeping adult issues and problems far away from children. She also spots ways in which children may be better served with a shift in strategy or a new way of communicating; treating co-parenting as a business relationship. But when it comes to those who walk through her doors not just divorced but also having to co-parent with a person who had an affair, they will need to park that outside.
As she said, You can’t unpack that in here.
In that room I understood how it’s not the venue for therapy on the issues between my former spouse and me. The statute of limitations has expired on couples counseling. They expired with the beginning of his affair. But, as I have pondered the idea that we’re supposed to conduct healthy, productive co-parenting counseling without taking into consideration the affects of infidelity on us BOTH, it seems then that I have to redefine successful co-parenting counseling. It’s really not counseling as much as a class on compartmentalization.
It’s safe to say that in the room I am the one with the least amount of compartmentalization experience. As an empathic Piscean, I’m like the Titanic – there are no airtight doors. While my former spouse also happens to be a Pisces, it’s a proven fact that to conduct a double life (one where there is still the representation of being in love and working on the marriage with hopes of a long future together) requires a PhD in compartmentalizing.
So I left session three reminded of the importance of creating an environment for The Dudes that is devoid of the negative energy that exists between my former spouse and me. I am on board with that 100%. They deserve a childhood, complete with experiences with negative energy so they can learn how to deal with emotions, create boundaries and grow into healthy adults. But it’s kid-sized negative energy, not adult-sized.
The negative energy that pings back and forth between my former spouse and me is not a result of not connecting as spouses. It’s not the result of falling out of love. It’s not the result of not having physical chemistry. It’s not the result of getting divorced. That negative energy is the result of infidelity. Betrayal being Heartbreaker’s savage sibling.
I could diffuse that negative energy with one choice. One simple choice.
Had I chosen to write privately in a journal and keep secret the fact that my former spouse lived a double life, this is the story that would be told about our marriage:
We grew apart. The travel took its toll. We just didn’t have that passion anymore. We lived in denial that we weren’t a good match.
And nobody would talk about the infidelity. On the scene would appear a woman. In our case within a few weeks. Maybe The Dudes would have questions. Maybe they would bury them, save them for later in life. If they asked them at this young age we would need to deflect them in a variety of ways. Life would go on. Our families would move forward as if nothing happened other than our love gradually dwindled to nothing, like so many married couples these days.
But there would be palpable tension because of the adultery. It wouldn’t go away. Maybe around the age of 30 one of The Dudes would become inquisitive. Maybe younger. He would connect a few dots and line up some dates and realize that there was an affair. He would file that away with all the times that someone told him that We grew apart. The travel took its toll. We just didn’t have that passion anymore. We lived in denial that we weren’t a good match. On some level he would recognize that no one talked about the affair. Not his Dad. Not his Mom. Not the other woman. Not his extended family. No one spoke about it.
It must be because it’s something everyone does, but no one owns up to.
And then maybe he would think, wow – that had to hurt. I don’t like it when someone lies to me. Didn’t Mom and Dad say we shouldn’t ever lie? But I guess it’s okay to lie about infidelity. It’s not okay to cheat on tests, but I guess it’s okay to cheat on your spouse. As long as you keep it quiet. Mom was real sad for awhile. But she dealt with it. I guess it’s okay. And Dad was happy. He had a girlfriend, his whole family embraced her right away. I guess that’s normal.
I have to assume it’s normal. Because nobody is telling me it’s not.
While my former spouse reminds me that we lived in denial and how devastating that was for our relationship, he wants to live in denial about the affects his infidelity has on our ability to have any type of relationship now. But that’s understandable. Sweep it under the rug and opt for remembering only that which we both play a part in – not being good enough to grow as husband and wife. Never mind the fact that for one-third of our marriage that goal was completely impossible because of deceit.
What’s utterly fascinating to me is that a healthcare professional trained in family therapy also suggests we operate in denial in co-parenting counseling. Her reasoning may be that it’s simply not the venue to address the adultery. I understand that. But that is part of the big snowball of denial that contributes to the shame of infidelity.
This word has been screaming for my attention for the last month.
The Magician remarked that he was truly impressed by my willingness to speak so openly about my experience with infidelity. I laughed. Sure, but I’m writing anonymously.
My former spouse thinks I should be ashamed of choosing to write openly about the experience of infidelity because of what it will do to The Dudes when they find HGM and read it. The co-parenting counselor insinuates that I’ve made a questionable choice in writing openly about my experiences, although she applauds my choice to do so anonymously. But she probably believes I should have kept my mouth shut and my fingers still.
Then there’s my face. Or half of it anyway. My former spouse expressed his disapproval (maybe anger, maybe just put out, but it was expressed with intensity) with my choice to use half my face on the cover of the book. The counselor wasn’t stoked either. They both suggest that The Dudes will one day find it. See it. Perhaps read it.
What will the kids at school say? What will the parents at school say? Kids and parents talk!
I should have kept quiet.
Infidelity happens all the time. Why did I have to speak out? Couldn’t I have been like the others and just kept my mouth shut?
Later that night, as I shared the experience of session three with one of my incredibly supportive brothers he said, “You did get custody of your face, right?”
Yes. And I have custody of my mouth, too. And my fingers and every part of my being.
The Dudes will not have a mother and father that love and support each other. I’m not going to be bullied into feeling guilty about that by anyone, including myself. The entire burden of that unfortunate set of circumstances lays directly on the shoulders of my former spouse because he chose to have an affair. And I am not going to feel guilty about that either.
It is for this very reason that I am going to spend my days raising awareness about the destructive affects of infidelity on families. We need to examine marriage and the epidemic of infidelity, instead of sweeping infidelity under the rug. If monogamy isn’t possible than stop getting married. If we still want to get married than let’s stop saying till death do us part and say until we can no longer make each other happy. At which time we will sit down and restructure our relationship like honest, mature adults.
Most important of all, let’s provide our children a better shot at a healthy relationship by teaching them through example how to have one. We need to openly discuss the serious problems surrounding modern marriage, the devastating effects of infidelity, and the fact that not everyone should get married. And we have to stop cramming the fairy tale down their throats, training them to think that their value as a human is decided in large part by whether or not they get married and have children.
I’ve heard a thousand times that our marriage had big problems well in advance of my former spouse letting someone else in (as if he simply answered the door). I agree. I accept responsibility for my role in that. Big time. I believe I create my reality.
But I will not agree that my former spouse’s affair is simply an ugly side effect of a broken marriage. His choice to cheat was a solo decision that decided our future. We had a solid friendship; understandably frayed during the four years that he was having an affair, but for 16 years we always had the basis to maintain a friendship, even if we had to experience the sadness that is a divorce brought on by falling out of love and wanting more out life. With time and counseling we could have provided to our children the opportunity to have two parents who together could celebrate their successes, nurture their souls, and console them when they felt pain. Even if they no longer loved each other as husband and wife.
I forgive him for his affair. I understand why he felt compelled to go in that direction. I don’t blame him. Everybody does it.
But I will not be ashamed for choosing to speak up instead of shut up.
When The Dudes find out (which they would even if I never wrote a word about it), I hope they will understand that I felt compelled to speak openly about infidelity not as punishment for their Dad’s choices, but in an effort to get people talking so that there is less infidelity.
Then, if one of their friends teases them about the words I have written, I hope that I will have raised them to have healthy self-esteem and no shame so that they say, “I’m proud of what she has done in an effort to stop infidelity.”
My favorite barista at The Office said, “You have a better shot at climbing Mt. Everest backwards in a thong.”
I used to think she was right.
But now I see that it’s only silence that feeds infidelity.
I’m not ashamed to speak up. Utterly drained by getting these words out, but lighter with the realization that it’s okay to talk about it. I’m not a bad Mom for doing so. I’m not better than my former spouse or a bad wife. I have an opinion, a goal, and a platform. This is not a vendetta, this is a mission to teach people that a marriage can come to an end without the knife in the back that is infidelity and that we fail to grow emotionally and spiritually if we don’t speak up about infidelity.
The next time someone says, “S/He’s married, but we’re in love” sieze the opportunity to say, “Go home and have a conversation, not an affair. You will regret not doing so.”