Finding out you have been cheated on sucks. No matter how marvelous, monotonous, or miserable you thought your marriage was, discovering the person you trusted most has betrayed you is like being sucker punched by Mike Tyson at church on Sunday.
Not only did my husband cheat, he also left me for his mistress and married her a little more than three years later which was just a few short months ago. They are now expecting their first child.
Sure, this would be a lot for any jilted spouse to absorb. In my case, I met my husband when I was 15, married at 22, and was separated by the time I was 39. Marriage was all I knew and suddenly becoming single in middle age was a lot to wrap my brain around. Sometimes, I admit, I still catch myself wondering how in the world this happened to me – to us – and why.
But there are reasons. And lasting effects.
Three years has provided me with ample opportunity to reflect on how infidelity has impacted my life and what I have learned from the experience, even though I am humble enough to know I am still learning. Here are my takeaways as of today.
1. Infidelity has little to do with appearance, money, education, or social status. Yours or the person with whom your spouse cheats. While I was married I was one of many onlookers who would make snap judgments about why someone else’s spouse was unfaithful. I never failed to weigh in when the husband of a friend left his wife for someone who was less attractive, less successful, less educated, and less respected in the community than she. Or vice versa. What I learned is none of these things matter. What matters is how we each feel in our partner’s company. Anything else takes a distant second place.
2. Infidelity is not your fault. Cheating is an act. When your spouse cheats it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him or her. Cheating is a unilateral decision, a choice your spouse made without you. Your spouse could just as easily have made the choice to leave your marriage without betraying you first. His or her behavior is not a reflection of you, only of himself or herself.
3. But your marital problems are. To varying degrees. Sorry, but it’s true. I am always skeptical whenever I hear someone attribute the breakdown of a marriage entirely to his or her spouse, especially in those cases where one spouse was unfaithful. “I was the perfect wife.” “I was the greatest husband.” No, you weren’t. Nobody is all of those things all of the time even when a marriage is strong.
4. Infidelity changes you. The key is to make sure those changes become positive forces in your life, ones that make you wiser and stronger in your future relationships. Maybe you are more distrustful now. It’s understandable. But if that distrust begets more open communication with a new partner by inspiring you to ask questions rather than accept “bad behavior” at face value, you are giving yourself the respect you deserve. It’s up to you to show the world how you want and expect to be treated. If someone is not giving you respect, walk.
5. But not entirely. Meaning no one can take from you what you aren’t willing to give away. When someone doesn’t value you it doesn’t mean you don’t have value. My mother has a cousin whose first husband treated her badly. After being married to her second husband for some time, she was surprised to discover that everything her first husband said she did wrong her second husband said she did right! Remember who you are and rejoice in it. Guaranteed if you do someone else will, too.
6. If your spouse wants to leave, let him or her go. When my husband told me he was leaving I dropped to my knees and begged him to stay, to which he responded that HE would give ME one more week to become a “better wife” (translation: give up my autonomy and self-respect, what little I had left). He also agreed to have no contact with his mistress during that time, a promise I later learned he didn’t keep (thank you, Verizon). My husband never wanted or intended to stay which meant he had nothing to lose by negotiating with me. My weakened bargaining position, however, meant I did. The point is if both partners aren’t dedicated to repairing the marriage, the marriage cannot be repaired. Your spouse wants to leave? A friendly reminder to not to let the door hit him or her on the ass is actually more than he or she deserves.
7. It’s okay to forgive your spouse. Even if your spouse doesn’t believe or acknowledge he or she did anything wrong and doesn’t need or want your forgiveness. I forgave my ex-husband because it enabled me to move on. True forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves when we are ready and willing to give it, if ever.
8. It’s okay not to. For that repentant spouse who shows up out of the clear blue begging for your forgiveness so he or she can move on, remember you don’t owe anybody anything. Only yourself. Take as much time, even if it’s a lifetime, to heal. You are worth it. Anyone who truly values your forgiveness will wait for it.
9. Not everyone cheats. Nowadays cheating is rampant and it’s easy to become jaded as you hear more and more stories of infidelity. But it’s important to remember that not everyone cheats. Nothing is more unattractive than bashing an entire sex based on the behavior of some or even one. To combat such temptation choose a couple you know, the couple who enjoys or enjoyed the relationship you aspire to have and deserve to have one day, and make them your role model. For me, that couple remains my late grandparents. Whenever I get down in the dumps and think a healthy relationship isn’t possible, I remind myself how my very own grandmother and grandfather remained devoted to each other for nearly 60 years!
10. It’s better to be alone than to be cheated on. I was recently speaking with my ex-husband’s sister at a birthday dinner my ex-husband hosted for our daughter. His sister and I hadn’t spoken in years and while chatting with her about how challenging dating in today’s “hookup” culture can be, she quipped that in hindsight her brother must not look so bad to me now. I couldn’t disagree more and told her so (with him in earshot). Though I have endured my share of lonely nights and bad date nights in between, being with a man, whether my ex or someone new, who thinks so little of me that he could be unfaithful is simply not acceptable. After being cheated on, it’s not that I now expect more from any man who comes into my life. It’s that I no longer accept less.
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