Infidelity and divorce through the eyes of the one who cheated.
I was unfaithful to my wife. Today, I am on the stand, exposing my experience with my divorce and challenging conventional wisdom and popular belief that when infidelity is present, it is the primary cause of divorce. First, what's Conscious Uncoupling? This was a term first introduced to the mainstream with the separation of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin, and contrary to how we have been conditioned to view separations as a painful demolition of emotions and families; Conscious Uncoupling comes from the perspective that both parties view the separation as an amicable exit strategy or the last step before taking the next step in a new chapter of their lives, all while remaining friends and maybe Co-Parenting.
9 years ago, I divorced my then wife, ending our 13-year marriage. Without walking you down the seedy streets of carefully planned phone calls, discreet text messages and top secret meeting places, I need to set the scene. I was 41 years old living in Connecticut and working in New York, I had beautiful children, lived in a beautiful house, drove nice cars and was a member of a near by Tennis club. Life looked great on the outside to everyone. But, life was far from picturesque. With a recent promotion at work and the added stress and time that goes with it, the squeeze on our already constricted schedule was compounded. That's when things started heading south. My wife was getting increasingly angry at my long hours at work and her need to have more time for herself became a right. Like many men have experienced, I would arrive home at the end of a long day to be greeted at the door as if I were coming home from a vacation I took alone, then handed a dirty diaper and hours of complaints about what seemed to be everything under the sun; me, friends, my family, doctors, teachers etc. The complaints continued until I drifted off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Shortly after, the ability to have any casual conversations with her disappeared entirely. I confided in a few friends and they told me, "That's what happens when kids come along." Let me stress, it was anything but the kids; in fact they were the only bright light in my tunnel of marriage doom (and to be fair, this is a one sided view of how I saw the sequence of events). As time went by, anything that we previously connected us faded away. Things got so bad it reached the point where I worked later and later hours just so I would be subject to less complaining and anger when I returned home. I kept trying to work on the issues, but never got anywhere. Problems got worse and what was once bad communication turned into pure resentment and hostility. It was at that point, that I cheated.
My cheating was not physical, but emotional, I would imagine myself living a different life, everything remained the same, kids, house, job, everything, except her. The imaginary replacement wife was not younger or prettier, but a woman who was light hearted and wore a smile. Whether you want to believe this or not, this was cheating. I became emotionally out of the game and knew I needed to make a change. A few months before separating I found an emotional friend and although not romantic or physical, I confided in another woman other than my wife. Of course, shortly after we were separated, I became involved with that same emotional friend who later became the sole cause of my divorce. Now, was my emotional abandonment the cause for the divorce? Absolutely not! Was it my failure to hang in there after years of feeling miserable, maybe?
Except in rare circumstances I don't believe infidelity is ever the reason for a divorce; it is a symptom of a marriage that needs work. Can somebody have an indiscretion and still be in love with their wife? Of course. Is infidelity painful, hurtful, embarrassing? Yes to all the above, but will it kill a marriage? In my experience, I have seen that same scenario many times and where there was love, there was a marriage that could be repaired. Would it ever be the same? Maybe after a long period of time, but what usually remains intact is a loving and fulfilling life.
I thought about all the wasted time people (wife, family, friends, counselors) spent accusing me of cheating and blaming me for the destruction I caused, and then never taking the time to actually listen to what I was saying. They only wanted to believe what was easy for them to understand. They thought they had all the answers, but they just had the one wrong answer. The problems and underlying issues in my divorce were never addressed. Unfortunately, we didn't take advantage of the one good thing that came from mistakes — learning from them.
So, I think it's about time that if we ever want to be serious about changing the odds to lean in favor of successful marriages as opposed to successful divorces we start using the same progressive thinking used with "Conscious Uncoupling" and apply it to how we have traditionally linked infidelity to divorce. What's the number one question people ask when first getting news about a divorcing couple? Was somebody cheating? Quickly labeling the cheating party as a "jerk" only to later say, "Oh, now we understand what they must have been going through" followed by "I can't believe they were able to stay married as long as they did." Sound familiar?
As we know, it makes us feel more comfortable to place situations into simple, explainable boxes. When things go bad we protect ourselves by pointing to a villain. When that happens people stop listening and growing. I think in world where we openly embrace issues faster than we can find them. Infidelity and Divorce stand as pillars of the old guard. Huh, maybe the problem is just a lack of a cool catch phrase?