A few years ago, I cheated on my boyfriend Damien.
We had done the open relationship route before but this was a definite betrayal.
I lied, I hid things and I chose to be selfish.
All because I was at a crossroads in my life and wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go.
He found out.
He was hurt – badly.
He tried to bury it and move on.
This turned into debilitating panic attacks.
I in turn was confused and wasn’t sure what it was I wanted.
I ended up leaving him at the worst time of his life.
I hurt him some more.
I abandoned him when he most needed me.
At the time I had nothing left to give.
Our relationship wasn’t working.
I couldn’t feel his pain.
I couldn’t show up for him.
I suffered a lot of guilt.
Feeling like I was the worst person in the world.
Yet I just couldn’t go back.
Not without my soul breaking.
I broke it off.
I spent the next 6 months in Bali trying to forget him.
Trying to enjoy life.
Trying to figure out what I wanted.
But what I learnt was much more than that.
I learnt about myself.
Damien and I have been together since I was 20 years old.
I wasn’t even an adult in a lot of countries.
I’ve always thought that my biggest problem was finding the love of my life at 20 years old.
Who does that?
Me – that’s who.
So in both of us trying to adult and hold on to each other and grow as individuals at the same time – we’ve caused a lot of issues.
Yet we’ve still stuck together through it all.
But in those months when we weren’t together – I learnt about who I was.
Who I needed to be.
Also, the value Damien provides in my life.
That I never fully committed to my relationship.
Not both feet anyway.
That I always gave myself options – an out.
That I don’t love being along as I once fantasised about.
That I’m flawed but I’m not a terrible person.
Once I learnt all these things for myself, I wanted to try again to make it work.
To see if there’s anyway it would work.
He had decided himself that he would give me 6 months to find myself until he would move on.
I didn’t know this.
So when we came together to try to make it work, it’s an understatement to say we had teething issues.
- I wanted to commit fully but didn’t know how.
- He wanted to forgive but didn’t know how.
- I wanted us to start with a clean slate.
- He wanted me to make everything okay.
It was frustrating as hell.
Two people trying.
Loving one another.
- But how do we like each other again?
- How do we enjoy each other’s company?
- How do we not feel like we’re on eggshells?
- How do we trust again?
I think the cheating was ironically the easiest aspect to move past.
This was because of a few things:
- When Damien found out, the whole affair was already over and he could see that.
- I was really struggling with the secrecy. Damien and other people close to me kept asking me why I seemed so unhappy. I wasn’t aware that I looked unhappy at the time but to everyone else, something was wrong. To me, I didn’t know how to get close to Damien again with this secret and It was killing me. What mattered was that Damien could remember and see how much I was hurting and that this wasn’t easy for me.
- He also remembered how I tried to tell him what I was feeling as it was happening at first. He told me that I needed to deal with it. Then I could see how much it was hurting him for me to talk about it and I just stopped. This mattered because he could remember I tried to tell him the truth, as I always have.
And lastly and most importantly, I started building trust.
- I realised I never really nurtured trust in my relationship.
- I used to berate Damien for being insecure.
- I used to push boundaries.
- I never created a safe space for our insecurities to be validated.
But let me tell you – building trust is hard.
It takes years.
Trust is either there or it isn’t.
So trust me when I say – I’ve worked my butt off for it.
I’ve spent years and continue to do so.
Two weeks of terrible sex was not worth all the trouble – believe me.
You know why I don’t believe the line, “Once a cheater, always a cheater”?
Because I’m very sure I would never do that again.
Because even if I take Damien’s feelings out of it, I hurt myself.
That’s why I wouldn’t do it.
The pain was immense and I couldn’t figure out how to make it stop.
Until Damien found out.
Only then did I feel lighter.
Like I could breathe.
And you know what?
The affair led to a huge spiral of events for us.
That led us here.
In two different countries, secure about our relationship and future.
Basking in the happiness of not worrying about one another.
Of liking each other and being excited to be together again.
And when I think back at all the times I hurt Damien, my heart hurts.
It hurts because I can look back and feel all his pain.
I couldn’t feel it at the time but I can feel it now.
And I suppose that’s the validation he’s always wanted from me.
All the years of hard work on our relationship is finally working.
And to me it’s ironic that an affair was the catalyst to all this.
I still maintain that if that’s what needed to happen for us to be here – then so be it.
Although all the acceptance in the world never makes the pain caused in the affair okay.
But sometimes the whole relationship needs to crumble to be built in a way that’s sustainable.
At least in our case anyway.
I’ve done my time.
I’m ready to appreciate the fruits of the unfortunate series of events.
After all I’ve worked damn hard for it.