One of the most difficult things for me to come to terms with regarding my first husband’s affairs was that I was partially to blame for them. Not because I couldn’t or wouldn’t believe it – but because I felt an immense amount of shame for alienating him, for being unable to provide the physical affection he desired and needed, for being so willfully blind about it, for ever letting the relationship deteriorate to the point where that was even a consideration to him.
I know that I didn’t make him cheat. A mature, responsible man who was unhappy in a relationship would’ve communicated their unhappiness, attempted to resolve the issue together, or at the very least simply left. But, so would’ve a mature, responsible woman. Neither of us were that, and while I thought that I was mature and responsible, I certainly went into the marriage knowing that he wasn’t. I was practically asking for it.
The fictional Dr. Wilson from House said it best: “She made me feel funny and interesting. And I liked feeling that way.”
She. She made my ex-husband feel good in a way that I couldn’t. She made him feel attractive and desirable. I couldn’t even kiss him without cringing or pulling away. She found him witty, clever, brilliant. I called him lazy, irresponsible, untrustworthy.
Why wouldn’t he seek comfort in her arms?
I say these things not to torture myself – I’ve accepted my part of the blame, and forgiven both of our failures. But then why does August still feel like National Infidelity Month to me? Every where I turn – TV, radio, internet – people seem to be talking about it. I can tell it’s “that time of the year” from how I’m feeling and what I’m hearing as surely as I can tell it’s “that time of the month” from how much chocolate I’m consuming.
I know it’s my own sensitivity and insecurity. Because I may have forgiven my ex-husband for the affair, and I may have forgiven myself for my own failures in the marriage – but I’m still that person. Still the girl who pushes people away when she’s hurting. Who doesn’t want to talk about it and still smiles and says she’s fine when inside she feels like she’s falling to pieces.
And I worry. What about now, in this marriage? Do I make my husband feel funny and interesting? Do I let him know I’m crazy about him, can’t get enough of him? Do I show him how much I respect and admire him, that I think he’s clever and brilliant (even if I wont always say so because he gets super smug)? I think I do. I certainly hope I do. But what about five years from now? What about ten? Thirty?
I guess the real kicker of infidelity is that I didn’t just come out of it unable to trust my (now) ex-husband – I also came out of it unable to trust myself. Am I really a changed woman? Or am I just one slip up away from alienating another man whom I love deeply?
It’s obviously immensely more complicated than that – but it’s also exactly that simple. Love may not be a choice, but relationships are. And every minute of every day we have the choice to work to keep our relationships strong and healthy, or to simply stand by while they slowly but surely slip away.