So if you’ve been paying attention, it won’t surprise you to hear I had an affair a few years ago. It’s true. It was a dark, self-destructive, desperate time in my life. I’m not ashamed, embarrassed or self-conscience of it. It is a part of me. An important part actually.
In talking with other men and woman about it, I tend to get one of two reactions, neither of which are surprising.
First, horror. These people secretly decide right after the conversation starts that we are no longer friends. Or that they are going to seek a new hairstylist because they don’t want me, an adulterer, doing their hair.
Second, confusion. “How could this be? Such a wonderful guy with such a well rounded, successful life? How could he have strayed from his wife?”
There is a third reaction that comes when my wife tells people and that reaction is, of course, “How could you stay with him?”
The irony is that none of the three situations is wrong. Having an affair is a divisive incident. By its very nature, it’s indicative of a split. Physically, the split occurs and you choose to take to bed another woman besides your spouse. Then mentally the split occurs when you begin to lead a double life, one of truth when your with the “other woman” and one of lies when you’re pretending everything is fine with your wife.
The interesting part is that the split that everyone says happens when you decide to cheat actually happens days, weeks, months sometimes years before when the relationship begins to split.
For me it was months before I cheated that the split truly happened. We had just lost a baby due to a miscarriage and we didn’t handle it well. Not even a little bit. That was the split. The affair was a byproduct of our lack of communication and severe lack of emotional resolution to the tragedy. And it went on for a little while.
So when the affair ended, as a couple, we decided to heal the open wounds. That the relationship would never be the same, but that isn’t a bad thing. It hadn’t been ok for a long time and it needed to be different.
That was several years ago and so clearly there’s been a good amount of work done because I’m truly honored to still call her my wife. Let’s be honest though, if you don’t want to work on it then by the time you get to the divorce that division has already happened and it’s really just paperwork anyway.
Now all of that said, I came to a realization about a week ago that so brilliantly described my half of my marriage and probably also thousands of other men and women who stray.
It was this phrase: It’s not that I want more THAN my marriage. It’s that I want more FROM my marriage.
And this distinction is monumental. Having the affair illustrated what was missing. I thought that finding it was the answer. I thought very narrow-mindedly that it was sex I was missing and so I found it. It found me really but that isn’t the point here. I knew this was bad for me. It shredded my insides every time I was with her. It was physically painful to think about it. It was an addiction. And not my first.
When I was addicted to drugs it was an escape. Same with cutting. An escape.
It’s not escaping that feeds our soul. It’s building anew from what is old that feeds us. It’s taking what we like (or liked as the case may be) and improving, expanding, evolving it.
So when I, as many do, went looking for more THAN my marriage the things I found were hollow and as such they didn’t fill in the spaces that were missing. Those things were still there. And each time I would lie with that woman and hope to come out more full I was again dissatisfied with my findings.
It was afterwards, when I’d ended the affair, been discovered and come clean that the building process began. Notice the way I phrased that. The “building process”. Because fixing implies that you return something to what it was before it broke and, as I already showed you, we were broken before the affair became a thing.
So years later we’ve talked about it till we were blue in the face and we came to the conclusion that we were both lacking a lot in ourselves and so naturally we weren’t filling each other’s cup either. I wanted, and want now more than ever, to get more FROM my marriage. And that comes from working on yourself. She knew she wasn’t having sex with me. I didn’t need to tell her that. I knew I wasn’t spending quality time with her and the kids or helping around the house. She didn’t need to tell me that. And those are both just minuscule examples of the larger picture which was, more. We stopped growing together. We stopped fulfilling each other’s needs.
So we decided to pour into ourselves and help each other to be filled and in the process we grew into exactly what we needed. She found herself, cut the chords that tied her down and saw herself, for the first time in a while, as the strong confident woman she is. I found myself, cut the chords that pulled me in so many directions that I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted, or where I was going anymore. I have a passion for life now that we share in equally. Her goals are mine and vice versa. We talk openly about everything. We aren’t afraid of our darker days and we aren’t afraid of what’s to come. We yearn for those unknowns. We face them together. And damn is it exciting to be alive.
That process will look different for everyone. To us, passion was the factor that needed filling. And that word doesn’t just mean sex. We lost passion for our lives. We lost passion in our work. We lost passion in our relationship. I lost passion as a parent. Yes, it was passionless in the bedroom. And we definitely didn’t have passion for Christ.
So we came to terms with all of that. We built a new, overflowing with passion life for ourselves. You need to do the same. What does it look like for you? Because divorce is easy. Communication is hard. Accepting faults is hard. Apologizing honestly is hard. Love is hard. Unconditional love is the hardest.
So sit with each other. Figure it the heck out, and just fucking do it.