Henry was a charming man with a huge amount of charisma. I tend to distrust that kind of charisma now. I want to see what’s under the surface. There are men and women who are able to put different parts of their lives in separate boxes. When I see people who seem to change everything about their personality to suit a situation, I begin to wonder where their authentic self is.
In the end it’s less about the sex, it’s the lying that damages the trust required to sustain an intimate relationship. I know several couples that have recovered from infidelity. In these cases the cheating partner has immediately expressed remorse when confronted and both partners were motivated to renew the relationship because they had young children and because they still felt committed to each other. Rebuilding trust can take many years of work. It will be difficult to recapture the innocent time before the infidelity. Many couples can’t recover because the cheater shows no signs of changing his or her behavior or because the victim cannot overcome the anger and grief that follow the revelation of an affair.
I made great effort to choose a very different partner who shared core values and showed me through his actions, not just his words, that he was kind and generous. I really did count on my daughter. Having a child really sharpens your perspective because you put them first. I am lucky that my daughter is direct with her feelings, so I am learning from a master.
I think all my instincts were screaming at me to notice what was going on, but I just didn’t want to look. I had so much at stake in saving our marriage. I think many women are ashamed that they didn’t notice what was happening right under their noses, but I can understand that fear of looking too closely.
I think that we should work first on paying attention to the details of our lives without fear or shame. If we are paying attention, we will notice and react to changes we observe in our relationship and partner’s behavior. From my own experience I’d say that the most important thing is to trust your instincts. Do you feel some vague sense of dishonesty in your relationship? It is important not to let your pride, fear, or shame keep you from trusting those instincts.
I think women are struggling with this idea of perfection, trying to have it all: perfect bodies, relationships, kids, jobs, houses. The pressure to be perfect creates a lot of misery and shame and I believe it ultimately leads women to make poor choices as they try to hide the parts of themselves or their lives they feel are less than perfect. I wanted to find a way to redefine perfection.
Affairs happen because an opportunity presents itself: someone shows that they are sexually available to you, an emotional connection with a partnered friend crosses the line, two people connect at a job. People begin affairs for the novelty and excitement, because they are lonely, because they are going through a time of stress, or because their existing relationship has become asexual. For men and women with addictive personalities like Henry, having affairs is like a drug. Infidelity is hard to quantify, because research is based on honest answers, and infidelity is about keeping secrets.
I couldn’t imagine any other way to find out what had happened and why. Henry had become a stranger to me, I felt a strong desire to understand who he really was, and I couldn’t ask him anymore. I also wanted to understand what had gone on in these women’s minds, how they had rationalized their own choices.
First, I think a newly single woman or man should establish a good support system of friends, family, and, if possible, professional advice. With time and patience you can work on forgiveness, which is essential to moving on. First forgive yourself. I felt so much shame in the aftermath of my husband’s infidelity, as if I had done something to deserve it. As your anger subsides, you might even be able to find some forgiveness for those who have betrayed your trust. Then you can move forward and rebuild your life. In my own case I did a kind of personal history, looking back over my marriage and prior relationships for patterns. I felt strongly that I did not want to be alone but I knew that I had to look for a different kind of partner.
I felt that it was important to see the emails because this shows the complete disconnect between his life with me and his alternate life. There was no better way to make Henry present in the story, for the reader to hear his voice and to have evidence that what I describe actually happened. It is also interesting to see the ways he lied to himself, and to others. I see the purpose of my memoir as an explanation of this kind of disconnect that happens in so many relationships. We all make these kinds of mistakes. I think we all have that capacity to behave badly, but some people are so compartmentalized that they can rationalize outrageous breaches of trust. I felt that by showing him in his own words, the reader can see him as a human and finally, in the end feel compassion for his tragedy, as I do now.