I realize there will be no scientific analysis here. I am merely throwing out something that has been rattling around in my brain for quite some time. Maybe a discussion will ensue. I hope so.
How do betrayed spouses decide whether to stay or go. What are all the factors, realizing each of us has a unique set of circumstances, for deciding to leave our marriages, or stay with our partners. I’m speaking pretty generally here, sometimes more specifically when it relates to sex addiction, but mostly the question I am pondering is, does age have anything to do with the decision making process? Prior to finding out our partners were cheaters, I think most of us would have said if our spouses cheated, we would leave. But the truth is, when given the choice, many of us don’t.
Here on the betrayed spouse blogs, and in discussions outside of this blog with betrayed wives, both wives and partners of sex addicts, and wives and partners of non addicts, I have noticed some similarities. It could be coincidental, or maybe not. The women I have either read about and or met, range in age from their late 20’s into their mid 70’s. And then, when evaluating age as a potential factor in terms of staying or going, does it also factor in to the healing.
Whether we stay or go, in my opinion, healing is about realizing we are the masters of our own emotional destiny. Finding joy in life again, finding happiness in our daily activities is our responsibility. There is no set timeline, we all heal differently, and mental health issues play a part, past wounds left untreated, underlying depression, the list goes on and on in terms of how this process plays out. Being truly happy, again, may require drastic measures be taken. For some of us, that will mean we must leave the men who hurt us. But for those of us who have a choice (in other words, our partners did not leave us), how is that choice made? I know for me, it was not a line drawn in the sand. I didn’t say on one particular day, that today I have decided to stay with him forever. No. My staying is dependent on a lot of factors, namely, that I am happy. I have learned how to define happy now. I never much thought about it before discovery as I think I just took happy for granted. Not any more. Part of my happiness is attached to my feeling of safety. Do I feel safe in my marriage? Safe from emotional and or physical harm. Potentially a very fluid concept.
Maybe these cheating men (obviously there are women, wives, etc… but I am speaking specifically to what I see most on blogs and in real life) haven’t fully embraced their culpability when it comes to not only the acts of betrayal, but their own healing process as well. The thing is, the betrayed are not going to just get over it (ever), but especially not if the betrayer isn’t taking responsibility for what has been done and showing us, through his actions, that he will never do it again. The odds of a cheater never cheating again seem to be low, but perhaps that is because they don’t do the work to fix what is wrong… their own personal damage, which propelled them into cheating in the first place. During this process I have realized that not only must my husband continue to actively work on himself, but he also needs to embrace my needs, especially those related to my healing from HIS betrayal. He knows this is all on him. I did nothing wrong and yet, I have spent hours and hours in therapy and talking and writing about what happened and my healing. This is because I want to be a healthy, happy person. I want to be able to move past the cheating and lies, and focus on a healthier marriage. A big part of that is on him. He needs to know that and embrace it and do the hard work, every day.
At this point, I have decided to stay with my husband because he understands that he has an addiction, an illness, that he cannot ignore. He needs to actively work on himself so that he can be a viable partner. What he did was never about me. Even if he wasn’t a sex addict, he would still need to be working on being a better person than he was the day he decided to cheat, and all those days after, all the days of cheating and lying. He understands my trauma. He knows I will NEVER just get over it and he still wants to keep working with me on our marriage. He is actively being transparent and building trust. Transparency and honesty do not come naturally to him. Even on the difficult days, he stays sober, he comes home, he shares, he remembers how he got us here in the first place. This is all good and helps me want to stay in this story that we have been living for 35 years. We have built a successful business together. We have two wonderful children. We love each other and want to be together and we share a lot of joy together. But I do often wonder how things would be different if I was younger, or older. I found out about his secret life in my 50th year. Our children were grown, just barely. Our finances were more secure than they had been the previous 30 years of our marriage. We weren’t struggling with any terminal marital woes. “We” were actually in a good place. I was in a good place. He was apparently drowning in his lies and brokenness.
If I had found out about his lying, and cheating back when we were in our 20’s, before we had children, would I have still been so keen on making it work? If I had known, when our children were young, and we were in our mid-thirties that he had already cheated on me with three women, plus all the hours and hours of grooming he had done, and the absolutely creepy relationship with the slutty secretary? Not to mention the woman who wanted him to punch her in the face??? Could I have “handled” it? When those relationships were “fresh,” all having happened between 1999 and 2001, would I have wanted to stay then? At that time would he even have been diagnosed as a sex addict? How would I have reconciled all the lying and cheating, then? I surely would have thought he couldn’t be faithful. I have never been a woman who felt like I needed to compete for “my” man. Would I have even wanted to put in the work to resurrect our marriage, or would I have decided I could find happiness elsewhere, potentially with someone else? Much easier potentially in my thirties? How would he have responded? Would he have told the whole truth, about how horrible he feels about himself, about the years of porn and masturbation, about how he never felt good enough… would I have cared as much, twenty years ago?
And on the flip side, what if his secret hadn’t been revealed until I was older, maybe well into my 60’s or 70’s? Would the love still be there after all the lies were revealed? Would I resent the fuck out of him for stealing SO MUCH of my life away? I felt some of that at the beginning, when I was 50, but then realized nothing had been stolen. What I had was real. Would I still feel that way if the stress really started to eat away at my already much older body, and mind? Would I stay because leaving seemed like less, all around, than staying. Would I resent myself for staying? If I were 70, would I want to be alone? Right now alone sounds just fine, but in 20 years will it? Would it just be easier to stay and be companions… letting the deep love go? I spoke very early on with a woman in her 70’s. Her husband hadn’t been diagnosed as a sex addict until they were in their 60’s. He was a successful heart surgeon nearing retirement. They had raised two kids, had grandkids. When she found out about all his lying and cheating, she refused to let her husband touch her. The intimate part of their relationship died. Never to be resurrected. She was nearing a decade of shutting him down sexually when I spoke with her, still very clearly resenting him and still having bad days. She came across as very bitter. The conversation was a sad one. She told me that it was just easier to stay. He still professed his love for her. He was in active recovery, had been for a decade, still is. She didn’t want to live with less, less house, less money, less status. She didn’t want to live alone. The kids know, about their Dad. She felt like she was compromising, but it was her choice, to stay. Bitterness and resentment are ever present. She made her choice, but hates him for it.
I would hope that the love for my husband would have always been enough for me to stand by his side during all this. That’s the way I love. I don’t think it’s really a choice at this point, it’s who I am. Maybe because I know deep down my husband is a wounded child trying to break through to that healthy mature adult. I know, despite all the abusive and cruel things he did, that he is actually a loving, caring human being doing the best he can with what he was given. Without the sex addiction diagnosis, however, I’m not sure how he would have truly been able to tackle what goes so very very deep inside him. I am grateful for that diagnosis and even though it has been a roller coaster ride, I’m grateful for the treatment we have received, and the friendships we have nurtured on this recovery/healing path.
So what do you all think? Do you think age at discovery is a factor in deciding whether to stay or go?