Yesterday, I read a story here on Medium and sadness crept in. The author shared a story about a friend who’s in the midst of an affair. I read his story and all of the comments. And I sighed. So much of what I read was full of judgments — words filled with I’d never do that’s and those people have no integrity’s. Words full of pointing fingers and shaking fists.
Most people never take the time to understand the why behind an affair. Most people put up barriers and distance themselves instead of stepping into the arena of understanding.
There are many reasons people have affairs and since I don’t know the author’s friend, I can’t ask him about the reason behind his. But I do know my reason. I was broken. My difficult marriage broke me and it broke my heart.
Affairs aren’t always about sex and fun. They aren’t always about getting off. Often, they’re a sign of brokenness and a way to escape the pain. Many of us walk around broken on the inside and turn to external things to ease the pain. Some people use alcohol. Some take drugs. Some binge-watch TV. I used an affair.
All of these tactics serve to distract us from our pain. We use them because they give us a temporary fix and for a brief time we feel better. They provide an easier way to cope than to face the truth of our pain. But when we use these methods we avoid dealing with what’s going on inside us so the pain never really goes away. For this to happen, we must find the courage to make a different choice and to begin walking the path to healing.
Finding the courage to walk that path can be hard though. Being shamed, blamed, and marginalized by others makes taking that path even harder. This just heaps on more pain and adds to someone’s feelings of brokenness.
Marginalizing and shaming someone involved in an affair isn’t going to stop them from happening anyway. These tactics have never been an effective means of changing behavior. Instead, they just make the problem worse. They create division and separation — the exact opposite of what someone in the midst of an affair needs. While I was involved in mine, I felt plenty of shame and separation all on my own. I didn’t need anyone else adding to it.
More often than not, we file people into either/or categories. We see them as either having integrity or not. They either have values or they don’t. This kind of thinking leaves no room to hold the idea that a person may have integrity and values but still be broken inside and end up involved in an affair. Paradoxes such as these are hard to reconcile. It’s much easier to wipe our hands clean of someone’s dirt than to get down into the weeds of understanding that brokenness sometimes leads good people to get tangled up in not-so-good things.
This either/or thinking occurs with many hot button issues. It happens with politics. With religion. With race and sexual identity. And it happens when we talk about affairs. We make assumptions. We call them the “other.” We see one side — our side — and never try to understand their side.
I wrote a recent story about what I needed most during my affair. I needed understanding. I needed compassion. I needed someone to listen without judgment. I needed someone to walk the path to healing with me. Luckily, I found help and took that path. Along the way, I discovered that external things like an affair will never heal my brokenness. Instead, brokenness is something that must be healed from within.
When I first began my writing journey here on Medium, I set out to write about my affair with the goal of opening a dialog about them. I wanted to crack open minds and increase understanding.
After a year of writing here, I realized my goal missed the mark. Opening someone’s mind isn’t within my power. My goal has now shifted to sharing my story to reach those who may feel broken like I was. If what I’ve written helps someone feels understood and less isolated, then I’ve accomplished my goal. If it helps awaken the courage within them to walk the path to healing, that’s even better.
I do this because to heal my brokenness I needed an outstretched hand, not a pointed finger, or worse yet a fist.
(Note – these are not mine but we’re sent to me by a friend who is also having an affair. No citation was given.)