I Can Say I Tried

A comment caught my eye the other day. Someone was beating herself up for giving the cheater another chance. Someone else wrote back that she, too, tried reconciliation- for 10 plus more years. The takeaway was that the commenter was trying to save her family. She *had* to try. And in the end at least she can say she tried to make it work.

Why? Why do we pat ourselves on the back for trying so hard when the cheater does nothing?

I’m not judging or criticizing. I did it, too. As you may recall the first DDay I had supposedly involved an emotional affair only. We lived in Utah. Harley lived in Kentucky. Jerry Lee had 2 opportunities where he could have met up with her in person. He consistently denied ever seeing her in person. Let’s say that’s true. It was strictly an emotional affair (at this point I don’t care; it makes absolutely no difference). I did my best to reconcile. I tried my hardest to keep everything together. I didn’t want to lose my family. I didn’t want to be divorced. I didn’t want to lose my lifestyle. I certainly didn’t want to see her slip into my old life.

Now I look back and I think to myself, “Why did I bother?” It’s not as though I feel better because I tried. I don’t think I gained anything; in fact, I could probably argue that trying cost me.

I see comments from people who spend years attempting to reconcile and keep the marriage together. Spouse eventually leaves. The comments are always, “At least I tried,” or, “I gave it my best shot. I can say I did the work and attempted to save it,” or, “At least I know I did everything possible to save my marriage.”

My attitude now is pretty much, “Why? Why is this something to be proud of?” Why do we waste so much energy on someone that is not worth it?

We waste years, yes, years, trying to make the relationship work. Relationships only work when both people are invested. When you’re dealing with a cheater you’re dealing with someone who either doesn’t care or only cares when they see consequences on the horizon. As I’ve said on more than one occasion, “Your cheater doesn’t give a shit about rebuilding the marriage. They just don’t want to suffer the consequences of a divorce.” There’s a big difference between the two.

I suppose there’s no real way to know how often a second, or third, or fourth chance is given and it finally sticks. You don’t usually hear those stories. And a lot of people think they have a unicorn but it turns out the unicorn is simply hiding their activities a lot better. So what I see every day are stories after stories of people who gave it their all. They tried, dammit. They gave it the ol’ college try and did their damnedest to save their family. They lost weight, had more sex, texted more, dressed sexier, did their best to keep their children acting like angels so as not to annoy, disappoint, or embarrass the cheater, wore makeup, picked up more hours, never questioned the spouse’s behavior, never complained, never mentioned the affair, got a boob job, consented to sexual acts they did not want to engage in, had dinner on the table, made him lunch to take to work, got up early to make him breakfast, and a whole host of other things. They danced and danced and danced, yet in the end it didn’t matter. The cheater cheated again. What a surprise!

My question is why do we feel so compelled to “do everything possible” to save a marriage with a cheater? Why is that the success? Why are we brainwashed into thinking we are obligated to waste another 2, or 5, or 15, or 25 years on a person who obviously doesn’t respect us, doesn’t love us, and doesn’t value us?

I took my cheater back because I felt I owed it to him and to our family. I didn’t want my kids to come from a broken home. I didn’t want to split holidays. I thought we were happy once again but ten years later he did it again. Only this time I didn’t get a chance to do the pick me dance. This time he just left and moved in with the other woman. I don’t regret it though. I will always know I tried. I put my all into saving this marriage. He didn’t. Shame on him. I can walk with my head held high.

First, let me say I do get it. Its a traumatizing event when you see this life you built slipping through your fingers. It is rage inducing when you see another person seamlessly take your place and reap the fruits of your hard work. And I don’t wish to minimize losing time with your children. All of those are perfectly legitimate things to worry about. But here’s the thing. You may face all of that anyway. He (or she) cheats again and as stated above you don’t get a chance to try to make things work this time. This time they’ve chosen to walk. You’re no longer needed.

After trying you’re now older. Maybe significantly older. Maybe you had another baby or two. Now in addition to this horrendous divorce you get to enjoy attempting to co-parent for years to come still. Your employment gap is larger. You have bigger daycare bills because of the extra child or two you had while reconciling. Your skills have gotten weaker and more outdated. You have less time to plan for your future- the one you’ll be spending without the cheater.

Don’t even get me started on the cheaters who beg for reconciliation only so they can get their ducks lined up- new place, new furniture, new woman- all while draining the marital accounts. They tell you you can get that back- the whole “marital waste”. The truth is once it’s gone it’s gone. If the cheater doesn’t have a way to pay you you just won’t get it.

So, why don’t we normalize not throwing ourselves at a cheater? Normalize not giving a second chance. Make it a good thing when someone has definite boundaries and deal breakers.

He cheated on me and I left. He knew from the very beginning cheating was a deal breaker. Yes, it was difficult. I walked away from an entire life. I walked away from what I thought my future was going to be. But instead of spending years trying to forgive and more importantly, trying to prove to him that he made the right choice in staying with me, I chose to leave and focus on my own self. I went back to school, went to graduate school, switched careers, built a business, got a promotion, bought a house on my own, bought a car on my own, decorated my house the way I wanted, discovered new hobbies, lost weight, cut my hair, got a tattoo, dyed my hair pink, pierced my nose, found out I liked my own company. I raised my kids. I was the sane parent, the one they could depend on. We went on vacation. We created new memories. We celebrated the holidays and came up with new traditions. I watched them graduate, get married, have babies. I spent time with friends and family. I cultivated real relationships with people who gave just as much as I gave to them. I didn’t waste another 5, 10, 20 years on a cheater who was going to end up cheating on me again. My kids saw me blossom. They saw a confident, strong person who was always there for them and did the tough jobs even when I was exhausted. My kids saw me become me again.

Let’s make that the norm and throw out this ridiculous notion that we owe a cheater years more of our lives.

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