(Adapted from the article written for meaningfulmommag.com)
We have been married for over 28 years. And I have been happily married for most of that time, absolutely in love with Jami and in awe of his love for me (which is how I feel now, strangely enough). It was 17 years ago that my world came down, shattering around me. I remember being in fetal position with my heart crushed hoping I wouldn’t breath again, but knowing that we had two small girls, ages 8 and 9, who depended on me. Jami checked himself into rehab for relationship issues, and I made sure the girls went to school on time, were fed, and did their homework. All they knew was that “daddy was learning how to be a better husband and father.”
What I realized is that his cheating for the first 12 years of our relationship (with different women) was really about my worth, not about him. [Note: Jami takes full accountability for his side of the street, and he also had plenty of things to heal through.] It cut to my core fear of never being enough—not smart enough, not pretty enough, not the right shape—which I had held on to for a lot of years way before Jami came around. I had to do the difficult process on me for “us” to ever work. I realized that Jami is not my “Savior” and I am not his. That was tough. It was my job to save and restore the good in others, because it helped me feel better about me.
You know that big word “Codependent?” That was me to a “t.” It’s a big word that simply means that I did for others because it made me feel better when they felt better. I was so angry when Dr. Russ Warner at Family Week told me this! How could I be codependent when he is codependent??? This did not fit my paradigm at all. He did tend to be more narcissistic than I was (another big word that we are all on the scale of that means more selfish), but his issue with other women was codependence. Ughhhhhhh! Needless to say, I was not happy.
Every relationship has a control/abandonment cycle. And I was the identified controller and Jami was the identified abandoner. Rest assured, you don’t have to live this way forever, but you do need to identify it and stop it. This is how our daughter and Passion Provokers blogger, Ariel Minter, describes the two types of people:
The Controller (More Codependent)
I am in charge. I am aware of most possible outcomes, and I make sure they happen. I like people to perform as I expect. If you don't clean the kitchen to the standards I am used to, I will clean it over again to make sure it gets done the right way (and hope you'll watch me do it so it's done properly the next time). I like to feel as though I have the power. In a relationship, I like security and am willing to do anything I need to do to make that happen. I will vocalize my opinion, and if you act in disagreement of that I will get upset. Most of the time, it's "my way or the highway." I use phrases like "You should..." or "You ought to...." I get jealous easily. I like attention, especially yours. If you say no to something, I will probably try to get you to say yes another time.
We all have characteristics of, and most of us can be, a Controller.
Now, what about the Abandoner?
The Abandoner (More Narcissistic or Selfish)
When things get weird, uncomfortable, or too close for comfort, I will likely just stop responding. Like that time we were arguing and I just walked out of the room, or when I didn't respond to your text. My "safety blanket" is avoiding or leaving. I don't usually push my opinion, and if you say no I won't bring it up again (sometimes I do this to spite you). I close myself off emotionally. I know this drives you crazy. And to be honest, I sort of like that. I often react this way when I feel controlled. It's the only defense I feel like I have, and it works.
Again, that is an extreme example. But you get the idea. This is fixable, and identifying it is your first line of defense against it hurting your relationship. We learned these things along the way, and teach them to our clients. It’s not easy. What we have done, and what we give to our clients, is a simple process, but it’s definitely not easy.
We made it through the tough stuff. I discovered my worth over time, and that I didn’t need to control everything around me to feel safe. And Jami discovered his worth, and didn’t need to abandon to feel safe. We also discovered love again, or really for the first time. We always loved each other, but now we had the tools to love without strings, and to forgive, and to have good boundaries with each other.
Five Tips for Staying After They Cheat
- It’s okay to be angry and hurting. You may feel guilty for feeling this way. Or you may feel justified. And probably you flip back and forth between these two feelings. And that’s okay. But please remember this: acting from your anger and hurt often will begin to create a barrier between you and your partner. Process them through journaling, and then picturing what your ideal relationship and life look like. Then bring your anger and hurt to your partner. Process them together, but friend don’t live there. Staying in this place will only cause you bitterness and disappointment.
- It takes time to trust again. And that’s okay. You are going to have good days, and you are going to have bad days. It took me up to 2 years to fully trust Jami again. I began to trust him over time, but to fully trust again took the whole time. I still have moments when I’m fatigued that I drop into that pain. But it’s never the same pain, and Jami is great at hearing my pain, acknowledging it, and letting me know that he is truthful, faithful, all-in, and aware of his conscious states (because that was one of our main problems, awareness and not choosing to become numbed-out). And I heard this statement over and over again when I was hurting or angry, and it was done with humility each time. Bless him. It does take the humility, so if you’re not seeing it in your partner this is a fundamental issue.
- I am not the “Savior” of the world. I couldn’t even save myself, and you can see that I was no good at saving Jami. Remember, you cannot save your significant other. They must do that themselves. This all comes with my controlling nature. As Disney so well puts it, “Let it go…” (and you know you just sang that song).
- Forgive yourself and your partner. Forgiveness does not make what happened okay, does not let anyone out of being accountable for his or her actions, and is in fact the best first step for building healthy boundaries. So why wouldn’t you do it? Because it’s hard. But it’s important! Check this blog out for more info on forgiveness and it’s a choice wayyyyyyy before it’s a feeling. You need to forgive your partner for what they did, and you need to forgive yourself for not seeing it, or not preventing it, or, or, or…
- Good boundaries are important. Boundaries are really a matter of will. This is why we often teach people that what you say your boundaries are is far less important than really believing you are worth keeping that said boundary. And you must forgive before you can have better boundaries. I can state (and I did) that if Jami ever cheated on me I would take the girls and go. Why do you think he didn’t share his struggles with me for so long? I said it, but apparently I didn’t mean it. Each situation is different. So stop making up why someone cheated, and start supporting coupleships that choose to stay together. We need each other, and we need support. Check out this blog for more info on healthy boundaries.
We all have hurt and pain. And we need each other to get through it. I promise that if you follow these guidelines you will find peace, empowerment, joy, and love again. It’s not easy, but it is most definitely worth it!