Thread: Conflicted
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Old 02-07-2012, 09:34 PM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Yes, you are in a mess.

I understand that you feel guilty, remorseful, ashamed, and maybe even frightened.

Some of that is probably appropriate. You did screw up, and you needn't have done so.

However, rather than wallowing in guilt, your task now is to figure out a way to take responsibility for what you did, to behave more responsibly in the future, and to salvage what you can of the relationships that matter to you.

Before I go on, it would help to know what you were hoping for in posting again to this forum. If you just wanted to vent, well, I hope you feel better. If you were hoping for unqualified support and/or pity, you won't get it here. If you were hoping for unqualified condemnation, to confirm your guilt and give you more cause to wallow in it, I don't think you'll get much of that, either.

If you're hoping for some advice, maybe another talkin'-to, some of us may be willing to help . . . but first we need to know a lot more.

What actually happened? I would conjecture that you continued to cheat on your wife in secret, but were forced to reveal the affair when you contracted an STI.

Is that how it went down? Filling in details for us here, in writing, might help you make better sense of it all.

In the mean time, I would suggest that harping on your own guilt and shame isn't really helping very much. You are basically beating yourself with a bludgeon, which doesn't really do any good for you, your wife, or your lover.

(It's not really doing us any favors, either, but never mind that now. If you receive any responses here that help you, so much the better.)

I suggest it would be more constructive for you to take up finer tools. Rather than the bludgeon and the flail, you need scalpel and tweezers.

You write as though you did ONE BIG BAD THING, you have TOTALLY DESTROYED EVERYTHING, and you have ONE BIG LOAD OF GUILT as a result.

That isn't so.

One thing you can learn by reading this forum, or even just by reading earlier postings to this thread, is that relationships and the actions we take in them are complex. There are lots of little decisions we make along the way, each of which can be evaluated on its own merits.

So, ask yourself: Of all the decisions you made in your relationship with your lover, and in your recent relationship with your wife, which ones were blameworthy, and to what degree? In other words, you screwed up, but in precisely which ways and how badly did you screw up?

Here's a partial list of things to consider, based on what little I know of your situation:
  • That you developed feelings for another woman isn't really your fault; it happens, sometimes (see earlier posts on this thread); responding to another person, at whatever level, can be a good and healthy thing, and not in itself something to be ashamed of.
  • That you put yourself in a position to develop such feelings may have been partly your responsibility (that is, you could have avoided it), but that isn't, in itself, bad.
  • That you were unreflective and did not practice self-control in your first responses to your lover is pretty bad, as some of us tried to point out, back in December.
  • That you had sex with the other woman is not in itself bad; that depends on context.
  • That you contracted an STI (or so I gather, from your oblique reference) is not in itself a moral wrong, though the infection is clearly bad for you; it does raise the question of what measures you took to reduce the risk, which raises a question of how responsible you have been.
  • That you kept all this from your wife at first - and subsequently? - that could be the nub of the matter, right there.
Now, regarding your wife, you don't do her any good by casting her as an angel, or yourself as the recipient of unearned grace. How much have you talked about all of this with her, in what detail? What is her reading on the wrong you've done and the harm it has caused? I'm willing to bet the secrecy and the deception hurt her much more than the sex and the STI.

I suspect your wife may already be using finer-grained tools, sorting out the good and the bad of the situation and, apparently, working on saving the good. She may be less angelic than pragmatic, which still works out pretty well for you: at least it would give you a chance to save your marriage, if that's what you want, if you're willing and able to be pragmatic as well.

Have you shown your wife this discussion? I don't think it would hurt anything for you to do so.

I have one other concern, as you work through all of this. The tone of your note suggests that you have already written off your lover: you've dismissed your whole relationship - which, back in December, was essential to your happiness, remember? - as "a dumb whim"; your use of quotation marks around "lover" suggests you are diminishing the relationship and diminishing her.

For good or for ill, you are in a relationship with a woman who is not your wife. However ill-founded that relationship may have been, however much it was veiled in secrecy, however much that relationship must change now that it has been brought into the light, it is a relationship with another human being.

Part of your challenge now is to find a way to honor that relationship, acknowledge and honor the full humanity of your lover, even if you can no longer be her lover.

To do otherwise would be to compound the harm you have done.
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Last edited by hyperskeptic; 02-07-2012 at 10:48 PM. Reason: clarity; fussiness
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