Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ch. 22 -- Who cares what people think?

I’m still surprised every time someone asks me for advice. I’m the last person who should give advice. All I’m really qualified to do is to tell my story, and people should go to counselors for advice. Still, some of the exchanges I have had may interest others.

Here is an interesting exchange from a person whose feelings really resonated with me. She decided to try to reconcile after her husband had an affair, and now she is concerned about what other people will think about her decision:

“I am a betrayed wife. My husband had an affair with a woman and decided to leave me for her. I fought. After a lot of back and forth, leaving, coming back, leaving, coming back, etc. I'll spare you all the details, but it has been horrible. Also, there were others before this one, although not “meaningful” to the extent this one was. We too had our problems before the affairs began, but I thought they were worked out and we were happy. He seemed absolutely thrilled and in love with me right up until he told me he wanted a divorce. Anyway, through it all, I confided in a couple of friends at work for support. They knew the gory details (I wouldn't do it again if I could go back) and they shared some of this with others at work. Now, I have lost one friend and seemingly everyone's respect by my choice to work on my marriage and save it. I loved my job before this and have the opportunity to move into a leadership position there in the next month. I fear I won't get the job or if I do, no one will respond to me as a leader. Do you have any advice
for me?”


I responded as follows:


“Hi ___________,

Don't you sometimes feel wishy-washy about the decision to work on the marriage? Coming at it as a man, there were times earlier in recovery when I felt like an absolute weakling to have even entertained the idea of forgiving my wife. A real man, I thought, would have thrown her clothes out on the driveway.

But I know that isn't true. The easiest path by far would have been to walk away. What I did -- and what you did -- took tremendous courage. We gave our marriages a chance and proved that we were willing to work for what we wanted. I had a willing partner, and that made all the difference, but you are no less courageous because of a different outcome (I have no criticism for a betrayed spouse who decides to part ways with a cheating spouse – that is their right – my whole point in this blog though is to tell people that it is possible for a marriage to recover and that it is an option they should weigh carefully, as you did).

I don't know what to tell you about work, I really don't. In fact, I am not qualified to offer advice, and you should speak to a counselor about your questions. But I think that if a person thinks less of you because of how you responded when your spouse had an affair, tell them to jump in a lake. Nobody knows how they would react to infedility until they are faced with it.

If I was in charge of making the appointment and if I knew about your situation, I would count your experiences as a positive. You have demonstrated that you don't crumble in the face of a challenge, but instead are decisive, willing to do what is right whether or not it is popular, and can follow through.

No one much knew about our affair, but the lesson I learned is that even those people spent a lot less time thinking about me than I thought. Maybe that is true with your co-workers too. After an affair, you feel like the whole world is out to get you and that the rejection spreads far beyond your marriage. Some of the perceptions that you fear may not be as widespread as it seems. You may get into the new leadership position and learn that it is not an issue at all.

Whatever you decide, good luck!”


Bottom line? Who gives a shit what people think. What is the right thing to do? I know every situation is different, but with all the affairs that are happening at this very moment, many are in marriages where there is a good foundation on which to build a recovery, and where the cheating spouse will repent and want to work with the betrayed spouse. If you are fortunate enough to have those circumstances and you decide to try to reconcile, I think that is just about the bravest thing you could do. I know deep down that it is the “manliest” decision I ever made. That said, I get it – I understand why someone might be afraid that people will think they are a wuss for taking the so-and-so back. I’ve felt that way too, but every single time those thoughts have crept in, I have remembered that (1) it doesn’t matter what they think, and (2) I am not, in any way, a “wuss” for loving a lovable woman who was willing to do what it took to recover. She was pretty darn brave herself.