Wedding Woes

A 25 year shame spiral.

Dear Prudence,

When I was young, I had an affair with my boss. We fell in love, got married, and, 25 years later, are still happily together. When our affair began, we were both in unhappy relationships. Ending mine was simple—my boyfriend and I shared only a mortgage and a cat. My husband, however, was married with two young children. He and his wife had been fighting for years, and it was clear the marriage was going to end eventually. However, I didn’t know that at the time, and I only went ahead with the affair because I didn’t think about the repercussions. I’ve tried to be a good stepmother to the two girls. I’ve had a cordial relationship with their mother since their divorce, and when the girls were younger, I took my cues from their mother about attending “family” events. I figured my job was to be a loving and responsible friend to the girls, and not necessarily a mother. Of course, it wasn’t always easy, but things generally went well and the girls (women, now) and I are close. My husband and I have a daughter together, and she has grown into a fine young woman, too, who is close with her older sisters.

The thing is, I cannot think back on my life without shame. Even after all these years, I’m ashamed of my behavior. At one point, when the two girls were in their early teens, I called their mom and apologized for the pain I had caused her. She accepted my apology with grace, but I still don’t feel good about myself. When I have talked with my husband about this, he says that I didn’t end their marriage because it was already in tatters and that his ex-wife, remarried for 15 years now, is far happier than she would have been had they stayed together. They were incompatible in ways that could not be surmounted by sheer attraction or couples counseling. I hear this, and I believe him, but I know that what I did was morally wrong, even if everyone is happy now. I would give anything to have not done what I did, although I would not want to give up my husband or the life we’ve had together. How can I ever explain myself to our daughters? Is it possible to find peace when you’ve behaved badly?

—Ashamed

Re: A 25 year shame spiral.

  • Therapy.  You were young and need to give yourself a break now.  While it may have been messy at the time, everything has worked out ok.  You need to forgive yourself and move on.

    There is no need to explain anything to the daughters.  By now, they may have caught onto the timeline of things and realized on their own.  But you still have a good relationship with them and they don't blame you for their parent's marriage ending.  The marriage of two people should not ever need to be explained to the children of that marriage, so no need to worry about what to tell the daughters.

    ditto
    OurWildKingdom
  • It is sad to see the LW beating herself up over all these years.  While I agree it was a terrible thing she and her H did, it was also a lifetime ago.  Nobody is the same person they were 25 years ago.

    I'd also suggest therapy, since she hasn't been able to shake this on her own.

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    charlotte989875OurWildKingdom
  • kimmiinthemittenkimmiinthemitten Detroit, MI
    2500 Comments 500 Love Its Second Anniversary 5 Answers
    member
    Sometimes this happens, it may not be the norm, but I think LW would be surprised at how many other happy marriages were borne in shitty situations.
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    mrsconn23eileenrobOurWildKingdomSP29
  • Affairs are probably one of the worst things you can do in a relationship but I think 25 years is too long to be beating yourself up. Therapy and move forward.

    **I think the thing I don't get about affairs is that there is no respect for the other person. Someone is not hot happy, can't move towards ending the main relationship so finds happiness with someone else secretly. I wish people would just end things.

    SP29short+sassyOliveOilsMom
  • ernursej said:

    Affairs are probably one of the worst things you can do in a relationship but I think 25 years is too long to be beating yourself up. Therapy and move forward.

    **I think the thing I don't get about affairs is that there is no respect for the other person. Someone is not hot happy, can't move towards ending the main relationship so finds happiness with someone else secretly. I wish people would just end things.

    Exactly!  But that would involve doing the right thing, doing the logical thing and thinking past their own selfish interests.  Qualities that...as I grow older and more jaded...I think more and more people lack, lol.
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  • ernursej said:

    Affairs are probably one of the worst things you can do in a relationship but I think 25 years is too long to be beating yourself up. Therapy and move forward.

    **I think the thing I don't get about affairs is that there is no respect for the other person. Someone is not hot happy, can't move towards ending the main relationship so finds happiness with someone else secretly. I wish people would just end things.

    Exactly!  But that would involve doing the right thing, doing the logical thing and thinking past their own selfish interests.  Qualities that...as I grow older and more jaded...I think more and more people lack, lol.
    I mean, yes selfish and shortsighted; but (and I do think there's a bit here) people make mistakes. I don't think most affairs start like "Oh, I'm going to cheat on my spouse and have sex with this person right here without calling and ending things first". Affairs are born out of a lot of feelings. 

    There was overlap between H and my ex. Ex and I had been together for years, things were bad, we were off and on at the end, he was abusive, H and I had a strong connection. But I was scared to leave a nearly 5 year relationship, I didn't know how things would work out with H, I was insecure. Tons of feelings. I'm not proud of how I acted, but I think there's often more to a story than anyone who cheats is not thinking past their own selfish interests. 

    Im not trying to justify cheating here at all, but I think the "just end things first" is a little simplistic. 


    That's true, too.  Everyone makes mistakes.  We all make bad decisions sometimes, some much worse than others.  For more emotional issues, I understand it can be more complicated.  However, I still think a lot of affairs are the result of a person not being more reflective and honest with themselves on what is happening in the relationship.  It's a hard thing to do.  None of us like to look at ourselves or our lives honestly and critically.  We're definitely all guilty of that, to some extent.  But because it's hard, I also think many people are too shallow to even be capable of it.

    Going a bit off topic.  Which leads me to I was actually more making a general statement about people who always choose the most selfish, and usually the worst path, not necessarily just on the subject of affairs.  In big and small things.  I feel like I live in a city filled with people like that and it just gets wearying.  Logically, I know it's probably still the minority...and that minority is just a much higher percentage than in other places I've lived.  However, it doesn't feel that way.  Because, over the years, it has soured me and now I'm more likely to take note of the "bad", than the "good".

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