A very common reaction to the discovery of an affair is to start blaming yourself for your spouse’s infidelity and yet most experts will say it’s never the victim’s fault.
Gregory Smith’s marriage ended after he discovered his wife was having an affair. While he no longer blames himself, he says there were things he could have done differently and understanding this has helped him in subsequent relationships. Here’s Gregory:
The struggle I had more was with myself. For the longest time, I thought that I had done something wrong. I felt maybe I was inadequate either emotionally or maybe sexually, although I thought at the time we had a fine sex life. I thought that I was not giving her something that she needed in some dimension of that relationship.
It took me years to realize later that you know what, I didn’t do anything wrong. She was the one who screwed up. I really beat myself up for years.
There are things that everybody can do better to make a relationship stronger. In my book I encourage people to keep a journal and to write down the different things that they think they did or didn’t do that contributed to the end of the marriage. The whole idea in keeping track of that is that so that you don’t forget it.
Then the next time around you’re aware maybe of what your tendencies or your weaknesses are. I’m all about if you make a mistake don’t repeat it, learn from it. But you have to remember it, and the best way to remember it is to make sure you keep a careful log of everything that you’re thinking.
There are probably things I could have done better or differently at that time. It’s been such a long time. But if I were going through that same thing right now— if I were in a marriage right now probably the biggest issue would be— and this has been an issue with some of the women I’ve dated, they say that I don’t pay enough attention to them because I work so much, or they said that I don’t listen or something like that.
There are always things that each of us can do to make ourselves a better partner to whoever we’re with. And sometimes we don’t see those things and sometimes our partner is not a good enough communicator to let us know these things, or we are not a good enough listener to hear those things.
The minor things over time can become major things. What I tell people in my book is to make sure they’re taking stock and thinking about why certain things happen. What is it about the marriage that if they put themselves in their partner’s head, what would their partners say that they could have done differently that would have influenced the outcome? And the range of responses could be huge.
For me, it could be don’t be so focused on work, try to take a break, and listen to me sometime.
What I’ve advocated is that it’s never the fault of the person who is the victim of the cheating. It’s never their fault at all. It’s always the fault of the person who did the cheating. But there are things that you, on the other side of it, could have done that may have influenced or affected or accelerated their partner to do something like what they did.
For personal growth and improvement, it’s always best for the victim of the cheating to sit down and take stock of everything and see what they could have done differently. And it could even be something like their choice of the person that they picked.
Sometimes people make poor choices in terms of who they pursue in relationships. Some women like bad boys. Well, guess what? Bad boys cheat. It may not necessarily have something to do with the exact individual that the victim of the cheating was married to, but it could be a type, a personality type. There are addictive personality types, too, and I do run across people on midlifebachelor.com who are addicted to sex, and so that would be an example of a person you probably not want to be married to.
The Divorce Coach Says
I think the difference between understanding what you could have done differently and not blaming yourself can be hard to comprehend.
I think it’s helpful to first not try to do this too soon after having discovered the infidelity. You need to give yourself time to get through your initial shock. It’s difficult to be objective and introspective in a heightened emotional state.
At this time, you need to remind yourself that your spouse could have chosen to behave in a number of ways and chose to be unfaithful. That choice is never your fault. Your spouse blaming you because they were unhappy or dissatisfied is about your spouse not taking responsibility for their choices. You didn’t make them do anything. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
Once you understand this and accept it, then you can start the process that Gregory recommends. This may give you some insight into whether the relationship should continue. And even if your relationship with your spouse cannot be saved it’s important to do this because it will influence your choices in the future.
I’ve had both men and women credit keeping a journal as an integral part of their divorce recovery and even for non-writers it can be extremely therapeutic. You can be totally honest with yourself, you don’t need to edit what you write or be worried how someone else may react. This is for you.
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