There is always learning in the end of a marriage provided you’re interested in understanding what happened, why it happened and your role. So what will you learn from your spouse’s infidelity?
Gregory Smith was 26 years-old when he divorced following his wife’s affair. His marriage had lasted just over two years. Experiencing infidelity had a profound effect on Gregory, changing him fundamentally. Here’s Gregory:
What was hard about the infidelity was coping with my feelings of betrayal. I’d never had anybody cheat on me. I had never been on the receiving side of such disloyalty, and I have always been one that has prided himself on the strength of personal relationships and loyalty. Even back then in my early 20’s, that was true.
It so was just shocking to me that somebody could do this. It hurt me to the core. I felt like throwing up for six months.
It destroyed my belief in relationships. It completely changed who I am fundamentally. I would say that it changed me from thinking that relationships could be something of permanence into what I would call now more of a realist or realistic point of view, and that is that everything in life is temporary.
Jobs are temporary, relationships are temporary, and friendships can be temporary. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And sometimes the beginning, middle, and end can be many, many years apart, and sometimes they can just be very, very short in nature in terms of the timeframe. But it was a slap in the face of reality that you can’t count on anyone except for yourself. I’d say that’s probably the most fundamental change that I went through.
For a good five years after that it was difficult for me to trust anybody. But I’ve never really had anybody cheat on me since then so the feeling of trust came back, but I also had a number of relationships that just hadn’t worked out for one reason or another.
I’m more comfortable these days with the whole ‘life is temporary, relationships are temporary’ type of thing. And today I would regard infidelity as simply a reason to dismiss the relationship. And if I were married instead of just being dismissive, of course, it would start a process that would result in a divorce to end the relationship.
In general, I would say to any sudden major issue, my reaction is to not react. Back then I was much more reactionary. But now I would not react. I would just listen and I would maybe ask some questions, but I would withhold judgment until I’ve had probably a week or two to think about it. And in certain cases I’d want to go consult with an attorney, too. But I guess it kind of depends on how it surfaces, right? I mean if you walk in to your house and see your wife having sex with someone that would clearly provoke maybe some interesting behavior.
Fortunately, that’s never happened to me. I think I would take a pensive approach to infidelity now, a more calm approach, a non-reactionary approach. But if that did happen, the ultimate result would be the end of the relationship. It would surprise me if I drew a different conclusion.
I do believe that if someone has cheated on you once they will cheat on you again.
I could be wrong. In the vast majority of the instances that people that have written to me on midlifebachelor.com that has proven true. People oftentimes will come to me and they’re so desperate for some solution to get their partner back, and I tell them, “Look, are you sure you want your partner back, I mean can you live without the trust? I mean the same thing is very likely to happen again. Do you want to be that doormat? Do you want to continue to put yourself through that, or do you draw a line now and get rid of them, and work on your own personal happiness by going into different direction?
Some of the religious books will ding me saying that I’m dismissive of bringing the couple back together and they’re correct. I think that it is very rare just based on what I’ve seen.
People say they want their life back and I tell them, “You know what? The life as you knew it, it doesn’t exist anymore.” They have to remake a new life now for themselves.
The Divorce Coach Says
I appreciate Gregory’s view that everything is temporary – we just don’t know what the duration of anything might be.
This perspective can be particularly helpful in accepting the end of your marriage when our society and culture expects marriage to be permanent.
Think about it … how many of your relationships and friendships have endured? The percentage is probably pretty low and I’m guessing that probably doesn’t surprise you. It’s the norm. We understand that as our interests and activities, our beliefs and philosophies change so too does the degree of connection we feel with friends. Losing some of those friendships can be painful but we don’t start those friendships expecting them to be permanent.
Now take marriage. We do go into marriage expecting it to be permanent but somehow we’re expected to choose this partner with very little relationship education. My favorite question to ask clients is how many years of math classes they took in high school and how much they’ve use that geometry, calculus, algebra and trigonometry in their adult life. Then I ask how many relationship classes they took. There’s invariably a stark contrast. It really should not be surprising that well over 75 percent of people getting divorced are under the age of 30.
This cultural expectation of society and the absence of relationship education sets us up for feeling that we’ve failed when our marriage ends. My perspective is that you haven’t failed … it was the expectation that was wrong to start with.
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