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“Did you sleep with her?”
The words tumbled out of my mouth. I could feel my heartbeat in my throat as I waited for his response.
It felt as if everything was in slow motion, how he looked at his hands, the way he looked at the steering wheel, then over at me, and I couldn’t help myself from asking again. Though at this point, I already knew the answer—it was written all over him.
Yet somehow it helped to hear it—the sheepish yes. The weight of that one simple word certainly overshadowed the promise we exchanged years ago. The admission that offered the proof of just how far apart we’d come, just how much distance had grown between us.
The affair was like a symptom of all that lived between us: the resentments, the broken promises, how we had disengaged from each other, and all the hidden anger. The affair was the breaking point that we could not go on like we had been.
I have friends who have made it to the other side of an affair with a stronger, more solid connection with their partner. That was not my experience.
The effects of the affair were like being dropped from the tallest building and breaking into a million pieces. I looked at all those little pieces and realized I didn’t want to put myself back together in the same version of who I was.
All I could do was view reality in the emotional condition I was living in. It felt like everything inside of me was collapsing and my world was also shutting down around me. So I stepped away from work for a while, and took an extra long vacation that allowed for the space and time to unearth all that had been shoved under the proverbial rug.
I didn’t want to end up like a close friend whose ex-husband cheated and now, when her new partner comes home late, she’s overwhelmed with images of betrayal that she admits she can’t help but let be her first expectation. If we don’t take the time to process the dynamics of our previous relationship, we tend to live by the same emotional reactions. It’s as if a part of us is primed to live by those memorized emotions. These emotions are then trapped in the nervous system, a past stress alive in present time.
The deep pain I experienced had me seeking approaches that would help me explore what had contributed to the end of my relationship. By doing that, I discovered just how much our family influences affect how we bond in relationships and how we navigate separations. I was able to understand that so much of what happened in my relationship wasn’t all personal. There were greater influences behind both of us that had shaped our relationship.
The majority of repetitive conflicts between a couple come from the family we grow up in. Each of us brings along the behaviors and feelings of our early experiences, and unless we do our inner work, the cycle unconsciously continues.
For each of us, our early life experiences shape how we bond and navigate separations.
The hurt was so immense that I was committed to not bringing these unresolved feelings into my next relationship. In all that I was learning, it was clear that a healthy and complete separation was an essential step.
What gives us the best chance of this doing this is when we can imagine saying something like this:
“I loved you deeply. I openly gave to you with all of my heart. I can acknowledge that you also gave to me, too, and that will always be meaningful to me. I accept my share of the responsibility for what happened between us and can leave you with your part. It feels right now to release the pain and wish you well.”
This statement opens the way for each individual to go their own way. There are times when it isn’t possible to share this sentiment personally and it may remain an inner conversation. What is most important is how we hold our ex within our heart. Otherwise, we remain deeply connected to those who have caused us pain, remaining intertwined with them and, in that way, destined to repeat those painful patterns.