A 25 year shame spiral.
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?