The discovery of my ex wife’s affair wouldn’t have made for juicy Lifetime television. I never walked in to find the lovers in a pornographic embrace, this happened way before I could have hacked into her Facebook account, and sexting had not yet made it to prominence. It never manifest through a counseling epiphany nor was it part of some compulsory soul cleansing. In truth I was completely oblivious to it all. Even through the separation I viewed their entire relationship as nothing more than friends and close work acquaintances.
To this day my naivety, and denial, remain staggering.
When it finally sank in that their ‘friendship’ involved a bit more than simply work outs and lunches together our divorce was already finalized. This reality was eventually driven home one Friday afternoon as I picked the kids for weekend visitation. Noticing a strange car, convertible Corvette ironically, in the driveway I pulled up and was cordially introduced to the individual who had been a frequent topic of our conversations for year’s prior. Using only his first name “you know …”, he already seemed suspiciously comfortable in his new role. He and I maintained minimal eye contact, exchanged few words, and didn’t shake hands; the tension between us was unmistakable with far more of it being his making than my own. As I drove home I can still remember my amazement at her nonchalant attitude during the entire scene – as if I should have expected it.
The coming-to-terms with being deceived and traded in for someone new didn’t have the spirit crushing impact one might think. At this point the worse was already behind me and a therapist was managing my emotional chaos quite well, not to mention the 25 mg of Lexapro I was downing every morning followed by cocktails most nights. Interestingly the feelings I did harbor were less about betrayal or treachery and more anger and resentment. As the months and years carried on I just couldn’t move past the outrage at how she had traded-in everything and turned our children’s worlds upside down - for that. In my mind she carried the full weight of this new family dynamic. It was her fault we all had to downgrade our lives, that I was reduced to a father with visitation rights only, and my kids would, for their entire childhood, suffer a ping-pong existence – all so she could have a new plaything.
My indignation knew no bounds. Given the opportunity I would pour out my wrath on her with extreme prejudice. I was shockingly rude, flagrantly unsympathetic, and unabashedly condescending. I would randomly delay child support and alimony, routinely fail to answer calls or return messages entirely, and send scathing emails concerning any number of, what I considered, co-parenting fouls. And if we were in the same room together my patronization was borderline appalling. Given the slightest nudge I could easily become the Mr. Hyde that keeps divorce attorneys in business and single mom bloggers with material.
Time and age are most effective healers. As the years carried on my bitterness subsided and the more introspection I performed the more I began seeing the forest instead of just the trees. The moment I started looking outside my personal univerise is when it dawned on me that in my search for scapegoats and suspects to satisfy my wounded ego the one place I failed to look was my own mirror. Cheating, affairs, liaisons – even flirting – outside of a marriage doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Meaning there are behaviors and actions taking place inside the relationship which cause reactions outside the relationship. For example, the most common reason men give for cheating isn’t lack of sex or the wrinkles on her face, it’s that he feels unappreciated, unacknowledged, and disrespected. Routinely what ends in a sexual affair starts innocently with a friend, coworker, or customer showering him with the compliments and recognition he needs but isn’t getting at home.
Looking at my former marriage and its demise through this different point of view I finally came to understand, and even appreciate, that day in counseling when she emphatically stated she wouldn’t end their friendship because he “gives me what I need”. Only by looking beyond my pride and pity was I suddenly able to see the vital part I played in the affair. I could now observe, with perfect clarity, how my actions and behaviors not only kept their relationship aflame but was the fuel that caused it to grow. Like a door suddenly swung open my animosity and outrage finally had a chance to breath, and in so doing change was able to occur.
I’ve sat in numerous divorced men’s groups and listened as others ferociously condemned ex-wives for rejecting the sanctity of their marriage all the while implying their spousal perfection. When asked if there is anything they could have done which may have driven her into another man’s arms they respond with embarrassed indignation.
I don’t know when, or if, I’ll completely snuff out my resentment; that which was taken from my kids and I, never to be reclaimed, is a persistent and powerful thorn. And while I’m not the spiteful prick I used to be I continue to treat the relationship as a strictly sterile business and have no intention of doing otherwise. For me, this way just works better. Nor have I become any more sympathetic to the adulterer, and the outcome that ultimately befalls them. But through my discovery I’ve learned that in any affair – everyone involved is the victim and the culprit. And when fingers start looking for someone to point blame, it’s usually a good idea to begin with the one doing the pointing.
Blogger note: this post also appeared in the Huffington Post.