The Truth Behind Why I had an Affair.

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I had an affair against a good man, my ex-husband, because I was unwilling to face my brokenness and childhood wounds until the damage was done. Here is my story, and what I’ve learned from this whole experience.

My ex-husband fell in love with an outgoing, self-confident, passionate, and independent 20-year-old.

He fell in love with my childhood mask.

I came from your typical broken home. Domestic violence, divorce, infidelity, and secrets were hidden behind a flashy picture of wealth. He grew up in a grounded, middle-class family where vacations took precedence over new cars.

My eccentric nature and off-the-wall antics kept him on his toes. Five years my senior, he embodied the stability absent from my life. With a moral compass in one hand and a secret life in the other, it was only a matter of time before my shadow would eclipse the light of the girl he thought he knew. I couldn’t have warned him because the truth was that at the time, I didn’t realize how deeply scarred I was.

I had lived my whole life feeling oddly stranded: in my childhood household, in school, in my marriage, and in my body. My escape came in the form of a quick fix or temporary high. My daddy issues, eating disorder, and depression proved to be a triple threat no amount of love, green juice, or meditation could balance. Walking the domesticated, straight-and-narrow line was like trying to hold a beach ball under water.

Throughout the marriage, we both dueled with my demons, and just as I had done in my childhood family, I unknowingly crept into the role of the identified patient, taking on the pain of my family unit. We both naively believed if we could just figure out what the hell was wrong with me, all other issues were bound to magically disappear.

We had a life most people pray for, yet I moved in and out of depression and anxiety while remaining empty inside. I wanted to be someone for him that I felt incapable of being, and the inability to do so left me sitting in decades of unhealed shame. Besides my eating disorder, he was the other constant in my life, and the two could not coexist.

He loved me without limits. The problem was I didn’t love myself.

In hindsight, I was searching for guidance, healing, and to escape from my fragmented past by creating the perfect external life. I was looking for a father figure, and only now do I understand this was a loaded role nobody could fill. Without knowing this, the wild child within me hurt a good man in the process of hitting rock bottom.

Swallowed Up in my Brokenness, I had an affair.

My ex-husband was loyal, safe, good, honest, and kind. He was all the things I said I wanted, yet these traits were so unfamiliar that I couldn’t hold the relationship safe. And so I cheated with someone else. I left before I could be left and hurt someone before I could be hurt.

I left a good man to face my own demons and be with someone else who was familiar and who mirrored the chaotic and messy parts of myself I tried to keep hidden. This other man and I were wounded on the same level. I was ungrounded, unraveling at lightning speed, and I made him my scratching post, unconsciously using him to soften my impending fall from the illusion of perfection.

We were drunk on the idea we could heal each other’s brokenness. Half-conscious with emotion, I led the way as he trailed behind in a heedless daze. He unknowingly taught me about my own darkness and I was determined to show him the light. We were both seeking redemption from our broken childhoods but neither would say it out loud.

He contained his energy for few to see and that was the attraction. I sensed his pain and his passion along with his creativity and his lack of confidence. He was not afraid to tamper with my darkness and I was not afraid of his—DUIs and all. I could touch his depth in a way I could never touch the intimacy I desperately craved from my father. After a half-lived life of smoke and mirrors, his ability to be f*cked up and own it was an odd security blanket I refused to be weaned from.

Why I knew My Affair Wouldn’t Last

At the same time, there was an unspoken understanding that we couldn’t live like this forever, even if we were each other’s air for the moment. It wasn’t sustainable. I knew from the second I saw him: I had to let him go. The spiritual responsibility I felt to not break his heart tugged at my intuition. He seemed to be unaware of his role as the crutch that would enable my self-destruction, and if he was, his loneliness hushed the very thought.

We were predestined for a fierce love and soul-crushing ending. I mistook reckless rebellion with the freedom I so desperately craved within my marriage and my life. Addicted to the intensity, my well-intended desire to stay away from him became only a casual promise I’d choose to ignore. I was torn between wanting to save him and knowing I had to save myself.

The problem was that the broken parts of me could justify anything, no matter how dangerous. I was enslaved by his ability to distract me from doing my personal work. He was my whole messy childhood family in one imperfect person—hence, the attraction and pull I felt to fix him.

I wanted to tell him to run for his life: stop texting, calling, and pretending there were no demons beneath my perceived physical beauty. I wanted to tell him he would only sink deeper in my presence. I wanted to tell him I am skilled at escaping quicksand. Instead, we took another shot of whiskey.

And when it all came inevitably crashing down, I was left with myself and the damage I had caused. I was left numb, in my therapist’s office, knowing I had repeated the same patterns from my childhood I despised and resented.

I would tell my counselor I didn’t take my marriage vows seriously. Her response was automatic. “You don’t take anything in your life seriously, Rachel.” And she was right. Of course I couldn’t take marriage seriously. I had almost died from an eating disorder yet continued to engage in the behaviors.

I didn’t even take death seriously.

The Aftermath of My Affair: 3 Life Lessons on Divorce and Spiritual Awakening

I know writing this puts me at risk for backlash and judgment. That’s okay. Nobody will be harder on me than I have been on myself.

I can’t take back the past. None of us can. I also cannot tie up the loose ends and pretend I’m fully past the guilt of harming another human being who only tried to love me the best way he knew how. The truth is, I’m still learning. I’m still uncovering my blind spots and trying to understand the self-defeating patterns blanketing my 20s. I can only share my story and tell you what I know from the perspective of a woman who was the cheater.

  1. I can tell you my cheating had nothing to do with my ex-husband. It was my own fears, lack of self-love, and unhealed trauma. It was my fear of commitment to anything good, my limiting belief that I’m not deserving of real love, and my reckless shadow in perfect unison. It was a reflection of me, not my ex-husband.

See also: Having an Affair Was a Life-Changing Experience

2. I can tell you I’m sorry. I regret very little in life, but I do regret this. I hate that more than one person was hurt by me. My hope is that someone reading this can see a piece of themselves in my story and release some of their own shame, guilt, or regret. Maybe someone reading this can internalize that they were not cheated on because they were a bad person or did anything wrong.

3. “Once a cheater, always a cheater” is not a true or fair statement. If we choose to do our work, and understand the reasons behind why we cheated, we will not repeat these patterns.

Ownership is key. I can blame my childhood, my free-spirited nature, or my genetics, but the truth is, I chose this. I caused and created pain, and I alone need to take responsibility for that.

We’re all human and we all have a shadow side. Hurt people, hurt people—and I was a hurt person. The key is to touch the places that hurt, examine them with a microscope, and heal them so we don’t cause external harm due to the state of our internal world.

With all this being said, I would like to coin a new phrase: “I was once a cheater, until I decided to heal what was lacking within me.”

 

Relephant:

How to Be a Cheater: Why I Said I Never Would & Why I Did.

~

Author: Rachel Dehler
Image: Maxpixel 
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Callie Rushton

 

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Rachel Dehler

Born and raised in Billings, Montana, Rachel Dehler is a dance instructor, yoga teacher, writer, and mother of two amazing daughters. An AADP Board Certified Holistic Nutrition Coach with a double major in Elementary Education and Special Education, she’s a seeker of all things that expand her creative side. Always learning, sometimes teaching, she writes with the muse of inspiring vulnerability, awareness and wholeness in others. You can find and connect with her on Facebook.

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Patience Koto Jun 22, 2018 11:47pm

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Christie Wilson Apr 24, 2018 10:20pm

Beautifully written, thank you.

Dave Turchetta Apr 21, 2018 11:52pm

My heart has been so badly broken by a very similar situation Rachel. She was a victim of child abuse in the worst way imaginable. I treated her with such kindness and I really loved and adored her. She told me she loved me, and I believed her, so infidelity was the furthest thing from my mind. I was crushed out of the blue, never saw it coming, and would not have believed it if I saw it with my own 2 eyes! We parted ways last October and she has never contacted me again, like I never mattered at all. Reading your article has shed some light toward understanding for me, and I would like to thank you for this. You are very brave for sharing this story with us, and I'd like for you to know how much reading this has meant for me. I feel a step toward healing. Thank you so much, I will be reading everything you write from here on.

Robert Gibbs Mar 15, 2018 12:47am

Brave self story Rachel, thank you for sharing and making our collective journeys more interesting. Blessings, rob

Kelly Carmichael Mar 2, 2018 4:26pm

Wow, Rachel, this article shows so much bravery and insight. This spoke to me on several levels. I too had an affair a few years ago and was lucky enough to be married to someone who was willing to work through it with me and stay even after all the pain I caused him. I hope to one day be able to fully process what all led up to my decision to seek out another person and to share my story with others. It's still a part of my story I hold very close and don't allow many to see.

Rachel Dehler Feb 22, 2018 3:16pm

Monika Carless, yes! Elephant Acadmeny changed my life and my writing. It's unbelievable, really.

Rachel Dehler Feb 18, 2018 4:30pm

Thank you for seeing me, and not my choices. And for your lovely private message on Facebook. That's says a lot about you. I completely relate to your experience with sabotaging happiness. And the guilt of being happy. Wow, do I ever! At some point it becomes a conscious choice we have to make. I'm grateful for Elephant Journal and this community. It's been my happy place for the last 7 months. You are lovely, Francesca. I am grateful for you. <3

Francesca Tripodi Feb 17, 2018 11:01pm

Your a very brave and amazing woman. No one has the right to judge the things we did/do in life. At the time it felt like the right thing to do. People just dont understand what it feels like to be your own harshest critic. No one can critise us as harshly as we do ourselves. Happiness is somewhat scary because its foreign to me. Im always afraid that something will happen to take that happiness away. Sometimes i feel guilty for feeling happy. So subconiously we sabotage our happiness by doing something reckless. We go back to our old behaviour because thats all we have known all our lives. So yes i can symathise with everything that your saying. Thank you for sharing your story Rachel. No matter what anyone says your a beautiful person, dont ever forget that xx

Rachel Dehler Feb 17, 2018 6:16pm

Hi Christine, Thank you for this comment. And thank you for sharing a piece of your story. Isn't it great to not feel so alone? It's my favorite part about writing. I get to connect with people like you. :) I am in the exact same spot relationship wise, and your beautiful words helped me remind me that it's perfectly okay! I wish we lived in the same city and could have a night out or cup of tea. Big hugs and thanks again. <3

Rachel Dehler Feb 17, 2018 6:14pm

Hi Megan, I'm sorry you feel this way. This was a risk I was willing to take putting this out into the world. It's by far one of the scariest things I've ever done, so obviously this comment stung a little. And that's okay. That's my stuff to look at and work though. If you were reading a book on my story, it would be different. I could get into more details. It was difficult to put this experience into roughly 1200 words while getting the message across I wanted to. And I am writer who when I write, I just write. I don't stop. What comes through comes through. And I've learned to trust that, after many years of not. Your assumptions are not at all correct in terms of the A.P. or my ex-husband. And our marriage was far from perfect before all this. He did love me the best way he knew how. And we are friends now. We even celebrated Christmas together with our kids. And yes, he is the real victim. You're correct. In no time did I I say I was the victim. In fact, I said that this was 100% my choice and I can blame nothing externally for my actions. The most loving thing I can do is take ownership and hopefully help others in the process. In some ways, it's like looking at a painting, or a piece of pottery, or a song, and telling the artist they should have put a sun over in this corner, or made the handle bigger on the mug, or shortened the last verse to make it click with more people. And maybe they should. Or maybe that's just an expression of them that was coming through at the time and their next piece will be different? My goal with this piece was to offer insight into my own brokenness at the time. My characterizing the A.P., I was able to simplify my childhood and him into what fit for my piece. I wanted the reader to be able to see themselves in either my ex-husband or in me. I needed very few words to get across the point of who he was. The private messages I have received prove that. And the deep remorse, guilt, shame, I felt, and still sometimes do, is why I expressed that at the end. I plan to write more, and already did submit a piece (before you commented) that details more of my respect for him and my path towards ownership. I still thank you for your comment and will sit with it. If I have blind spots, which we all do, I want to see them, not matter how much it hurts.

Christine Zambonetti Feb 17, 2018 12:18pm

This so speaks to me. I too come from a traumatic background and my husband offered the security I so desperately needed but then after 18 years I traded security for passion. With great passion comes extreme highs and lows so I had to leave him as well. Now I've been on my own for two years and loving every minute of it. I've learned to be my own best friend and security. Like you, it will be the only regret of my life hurting a beautiful man who adored me but I think without leaving, I would not have grown so much. I won't get into another relationship until I work out exactly who I am and what I want. My whole life I was dictated to about the person I was supposed to be but now I'm calling my own shots and it feels amazing

Megan Sabrina Feb 16, 2018 11:51pm

I had to reread this a couple times, and what is evident to me, is not so much the lack of self-love, proclaimed, but a blatant lack of love for your ex husband. Yes, many of us have done this-stayed with someone out of obligation rather than love, or married for the wrong reasons; but your ex-husband kind of appears as a vague, auxiliary figure in this story, who's only purpose is to prop you up and be an extension of your existence and growth. I just don't see him portrayed with the same human qualities, as an individual in his own right; unlike that of your A.P. to which you go into great detail about all the pain and misery you caused him; and even romanticize the affair-the very thing you regret, and reason for this post. Obviously I don't know the details, but I'm guessing your a.p. knew you were married. Your then-husband was in the dark, under the illusion of trust; and there is something incomparably cutting about being deceived by the one you love most. I understand this is your personal testimony, only told from your p.o.v. and I commend you for writing it. I'm not invalidating your childhood trauma, your struggle, or minimizing your suffering, as a great deal of humans unfortunately experience toxic upbringings, dysfunctional romantic relationships, heavy regrets and for many, poverty, as well. I commend you for falling on your sword, confessing, reflecting, and becoming enlightened as to the root cause of why you made some bad choices, and using it to unlearn toxic behavior that you thought was normal. But when I read this, I can't help thinking that your ex-husband is the real victim in this story and he deserves a bit more compassion and empathy, from you, for his suffering, personal demons, and what was his gift of love and devotion to you.

Peter Ladensack Feb 14, 2018 8:35pm

Rachel Dehler OXXO

Rachel Dehler Feb 14, 2018 8:29pm

Thank you for the read and and comment. And yes, Happy Valentine's Day! I appreciate your gratitude.

Rachel Dehler Feb 14, 2018 8:28pm

Thank you, Supriya. I really appreciate the comment and read. I am not sure I am proud of myself. The good feeling I have right now is that it is helping others. Truly. Although I feel exposed, I do finally seem to understand my purpose in this life. Thank you for helping me internalize that. Thank you again for the beautiful comment.

Peter Ladensack Feb 14, 2018 8:17pm

Thanx Happy V Day.....Nice ,,,,,Thank You for Sharing Your Life Experienece.....PSL

Monika Carless Feb 14, 2018 7:06pm

Awww. Rachel, you do not have to worry about that, as long as you write from an honest place, your talent will come through and it has. xo (I learned that from Waylon and then from jumping in)

Rachel Dehler Feb 14, 2018 3:18pm

That is one of the nicest things I've ever heard. Thank you. Oddly I put off submitting to Elephant for years because I compared my writing to the array of talent on this site. I cannot thank you enough for your comment and read.

Rachel Dehler Feb 14, 2018 3:17pm

That's one of the best compliments a writer can receive. When I write, I pretend I am writing to the one person who needs my words and perhaps you were her. Thank you, Lynette. Truly.

Rachel Dehler Feb 14, 2018 3:15pm

Ahh, don't you love when you find kindreds in the most unlikely ways? Thank you for reading and commenting. Let's connect on Facebook. :)

Rachel Dehler Feb 14, 2018 3:14pm

Thank you, Mari. I've been painfully selfish at times, and a had many years of, "I'm sorry but" moments. I am glad you chose to click on this and that it touched your heart. <3

Mari Milne Feb 14, 2018 9:09am

I read the title and braced my sarcasm for an inevitable excuse for being selfish. How wrong i was. How beautifully written. Thankyou. Genuinely, sincerely, thankyou for sharing.

Sofe Brock Feb 14, 2018 6:59am

Absolutely incredibly written. This ignited my soul with a sense of friendship and understanding, thank you.

Lynnette Gyllenblad Feb 14, 2018 6:14am

Thank you for sharing your story.!!! You put into words what was, for me, feelings hidden behind years of not understanding the long term effect early childhood experiences have on relationships. It feels like you were writing it for me. Powerful..