The discovery of my ex-wife's affair wouldn't have made for juicy television. I never walked in to find the lovers in our bed, she never came clean through an intense marriage counseling session and I didn't stumble upon some tawdry Facebook exchange, since Mark Zuckerberg was still in elementary school. I had been completely oblivious to all the telltale signs and even through the separation process, I continued to see their relationship as purely friends and close work acquaintances.
To this day my naivety and denial remain staggering.
When it finally sank in that their relationship involved a bit more than just workouts and lunches, our divorce was already on the record books. Picking my kids up on my very first weekend as a single dad, I noticed a strange car in the driveway, ironically a convertible Corvette. I pulled up and was cordially introduced to the person who had been a frequent topic of our counseling conversations for years prior. Using only his first name "you know...", it appeared he had already made himself at home. We maintained minimal eye contact, exchanged few words and didn't shake hands. Driving home, I can still remember my amazement at her nonchalant attitude during the entire scene -- like I should have expected no less.
Interestingly, my coming-to-terms at being deceived and traded in for someone else didn't have the spirit-crushing impact I would have thought. At this point, the heavy lifting was already behind me and a therapist was managing the soreness quite well. And those feelings I did harbor were less betrayal or treachery and much more anger and resentment.
But as the years wore on, I couldn't seem to move beyond the outrage at how she had traded in everything and turned our children's worlds upside down -- for that. To me, she carried the full burden of guilt. It was entirely her fault our lives, especially our young children's, had been thrown into chaos -- and all so she could have a new plaything.
My indignation knew no bounds. Given the opportunity, I would pour out my wrath on her with extreme prejudice. I was shockingly rude, flagrantly unsympathetic and unabashedly condescending. I would randomly delay child support and alimony, routinely fail to answer calls or return messages entirely and send scathing emails concerning any number of what I considered parenting fouls. And if we were in the same room together, my patronization was borderline appalling. Given the slightest nudge, I could easily become the Mr. Hyde that keeps divorce attorneys in business and single mothers up at night.
Time and age are most effective healers. My bitterness and fury have subsided and with more introspection, I began seeing a forest instead of just trees. The moment I started looking outside my personal universe is when it dawned on me that in my search for scapegoats and suspects to satisfy my wounded ego, the one place I failed to look was my own mirror.
It led me to the understanding that affairs never happen in a vacuum. Which is to say behaviors and actions inside the relationship cause reactions that eventually manifest outside. For example, the most common reason men give for cheating isn't lack of sex or wrinkles on her face, it's that he feels unappreciated, unacknowledged and disrespected. Routinely, what ends in a sexual affair starts innocently with a friend, coworker or customer showering him with the appreciation and recognition he isn't getting at home.
When seen through this unconventional point of view, I finally came to understand and even empathize with her for the day in counseling when she emphatically declared she wouldn't end their friendship, saying "he gives me what I need". When I finally moved beyond my pride and pity, I was suddenly able to see what I had been there all along -- the part I played in her affair. I could now observe, with perfect clarity, how my actions and behaviors not only kept their relationship aflame but even fueled its growth. And it was when that door suddenly swung open my animosity and outrage had a chance to breath.
I've sat with countless divorced men and listened as they ferociously condemned their ex-wives for rejecting the sanctity of marriage, all the while implying their own spousal perfection. When asked if there is anything they could have done differently to keep her out of another man's arms, they respond with embarrassed indignation.
I don't know when, or if, I'll ever completely snuff out my resentment; that which was taken can never to be reclaimed. But through my story I've learned that in an affair those involved are victims -- and culprits -- and when fingers begin looking for someone to point blame, it's usually a good idea to begin with the one doing the pointing.