Many couples have to confront infidelity – one or both spouses admit to infidelity either physical or emotional in forty-one percent of marriages. It’s always painful and hurtful. Reconciliation is possible with hardwork. Without the hard, honest work the infidelity may continue and the relationship issues will undoubtedly continue.
My current guest, Candi was married for thirty-five years. Her husband had been unfaithful repeatedly and yet Candi stayed and tolerated the affairs. Here’s Candi to explain why:
The infidelity was repetitive. It was right from the beginning; right from the beginning, right to the very end. I really couldn’t tell you which had more of a nail in the coffin, the money part of it or the cheating part of it. It was a double whammy—both things.
When I first discovered it I was totally crushed and heartbroken, but until the last ten years in the marriage, he had managed to make me believe that it was my fault that he did it. I was a terrible wife. I did feel guilty and responsible for his unhappiness. Then, finally I wised up and realized that it had nothing to do with me at all.
There was always so much going on financially where I wasn’t happy and he would say, “Well, you know, you’re never happy with me and we’re always arguing,” and he always put it on me. “You’re always this, you’re always that, so therefore this is why I do it.” That was true. I was always unhappy and we were always arguing. I just let him to do that to me until I wised up and realized it really didn’t have anything to do with me at all. It’s the way he is as a human being. It’s his own insecurities that make him do that. I don’t know if it’s because he needs that to feel more like a man, I really don’t know.
The children do know about the infidelity because they were witness to some of it. That’s sad for him, because all of them have held that against him. I’m sorry for him that he was that careless to let that happen. They’ve never discussed it with me. My son absolutely will not at all and my daughters, I put feelers out but they don’t want to. They don’t feel comfortable discussing that with me.
When I had told them I was leaving I said, “I’m leaving him and I’m going to divorce him. Some are the reasons why are financial and because he’s not been faithful to me,” and they all said, “I know.” He runs a screen printing shop, that’s what he does, he prints T-shirts and sweatshirts and stuff like that. He would always have the kids at different times come into the shop and help him, work with him. There was a woman that he hired to come in and help him do screen printing that he had an affair with and he was just not very careful about hiding that when the kids were at the shop.
Kids are smart, they pick up on stuff and they very easily figured out what was going on—all three of them did, very easily. I said, “One of the women he had an affair with was that woman Jane,” and they were like, “Yeah mom, we know about that one.” I think that’s the only one that they knew for certain. They know that there were others but they don’t know the details.
They don’t need to know the details, because I don’t want to destroy their relationship with him. He’s the only father they’re ever going to have. He loves them all dearly. He would die for any one of them, he would do anything for them if it was within his power. So it is what it is. He’s not good husband material. He really isn’t the greatest father, but he is their father and he’s all they’re ever going to have.
I hope they can keep a good relationship with him.
Understanding infidelity is challenging and complex. What I do know is that affairs are often an indication of trouble in the marriage and while there may be changes you can make to your own behavior to improve the marriage, you are not responsible for the choices your spouse makes. You can only be responsible for your own choices.
So in Candi’s case, in blaming her, her husband is acknowledging that there are marital problems but he’s not accepting responsibility for his choices. And I think Candi’s initial reaction of accepting responsibility for his choices is not uncommon. Coming to the realization that she wasn’t to blame was a major turning point in her own journey.
The lesson of not being responsible for your spouse’s behavior is applicable to many situations including drug and alcohol abuse, frequent unemployment, poor money management. Along with feeling responsible for their behavior comes the belief that you have to keep quiet about it because their behavior reflects badly on you, that you will somehow be judged by others for it. So when you stop taking responsibility, you are also freed from keeping their secrets. And … you can only be judged by others if you accept that judgment.
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