You’ve cheated, and now you need help. Maybe you have ended your affair, or maybe you want to and can’t find the willpower to stick to it. You have searched for help on websites or forums, and you’ve stumbled upon a place where you can ask for advice.
Maybe you’ve reached the place where you know your affair was absolutely wrong…maybe you feel bad and know it was wrong but are still struggling with the things that you feel made you vulnerable. You want help, but will people care? Will they attack? Will you have time to process the information?
I Cheated, Is Finding Help Safe For Me?
And the biggest fear of all…what if someone tries to find out who you are and spills your secret? How can you feel safe while you try to climb out of the pit? These questions, including this last one, are all very important and completely legitimate. I’ve asked them all myself. And though I admit up front that I completely regret my past bad choices and believe that they were 100% my responsibility, I still believe every human – and a Wayward Spouse IS a human – should be able to feel safe while they wrestle their demons. I haven’t always felt that, and so I wanted to give you some tips to help eliminate some of your fears and focus on recovery and change – which is supposed to be the purpose of this type of forum in the first place.
1. Why a Forum?
Ask yourself the above question. Why are you choosing a forum to work out this particular situation? Are there any real-life friends with whom you can talk? A priest or pastor? A family member? A counselor? That is not meant to discourage you from posting on a forum; they can be very helpful. But it is a good question to ask. And of course, more than one form of support is always good.
2. How Do You Feel About Your Affair?
If you are coming to a forum for advice or support, most of the people you encounter will assume that you want to end it, have ended it, want to work on your marriage, want to figure out how you feel about your marriage, etc. If you think your affair is just fine and dandy, then understand that most people, especially on a marriage-oriented forum, will not agree. Heck, I don’t agree, and I’ve been where you are. It is my feeling that an affair is pretty much always the wrong answer to any problem because it hurts people (including you, whether you see it now or not), it is deceitful, and it breaks some very basic marriage vows.
3. What Will You Share?
Of course, the more honest you are, the more specific support you will receive (theoretically, but I will cover that later). But think about your goal. If your goal is to end your affair, come clean, and rebuild your marriage, then it is necessary to tell the other posters you had an affair, probably how you met and how you meet, and some basics about your marriage. However, some things are NOT necessary to share. Be prepared to be honest about the fact that you cheated, but be smart too.
4. Remember Who You Are
You are a person who made a very, very bad choice. BUT…you are a person. You are not a farm animal, an undomesticated canine, or a feral feline. The people you should listen to are persons who recognize that you are also a person. Understand, remembering you are a person does NOT mean agreeing with you or patting you on the head. You’ll still get some tough truths. BUT, you’ll know pretty quickly who views you as a person and who views you as one of the mammals above. Put the latter on Ignore. If the forum does not have an Ignore feature, run to another site.
5. Are You Afraid of Mirrors?
I understand. I really do. My marriage was BAD when I chose to have an affair. However, as they say in pretty much every support group out there, the only person I can control is me. Most people who spend a lot of time on forums understand this. So they are not likely to commiserate with you on how your husband forgot your anniversary 5 years ago. The main focus of the conversation, especially in the beginning, will be on YOUR choices. And no one made your choices except you. If looking at yourself is something you absolutely will not do, expect to be frustrated. In order to get out of the affair mess, YOU are going to have to be willing to change something about YOU.
6. Are You Sure About the State of Your Marriage?
If you are, don’t bend. But at least heavily consider everything you think you think about your marriage right now. You will hear that ALL cheating husbands and wives rewrite ALL of their marital history. Okay, the words all are not always in all caps…but the implication is there. I didn’t rewrite how infrequently I had sex. I didn’t rewrite my husband’s inability to say “I was wrong.” I didn’t rewrite the money troubles or the pornography. Sorry…it was all true. I DID rewrite “always being unhappy from the beginning” because, let’s face it, I wasn’t always unhappy from the beginning. So think about what in your marriage really IS/WAS an issue and what’s just you trying to build a case to make the affair not so bad. And remember, there are two people in your marriage – you lived with him/her every day. If you actually heard him/her scream at you three times a week for 10 years, then don’t let someone who has never met you tell you that you dreamed it. HOWEVER, lest you start to feel justified again, go back to #5. YOU are the one who chose to deal with all of it by cheating.
This is a biggie. Do not under any circumstances underestimate how much of a biggie this is. Here are some tips to help keep you safe:
- Read before joining. Read several forums, and read them well. Read both betrayed spouse and wayward spouse threads. Read the terms of service. Do not join until you know for sure you are ready to do so.
- Create a forum email account. Do not use your family, personal, or work email. Period. It takes 5 minutes to get a free account. This is not to keep you safe from your spouse. This is to keep you safe from Internet predators.
- Pick a random and unrelated-to-you screen name. If you are a history professor at the only college in your town, don’t choose “historyprof” as your screen name. Choose something like “Ilikepizza.” Seriously. Same with your password. Generate a random one and then memorize it.
- Do not give anyone on a forum your email. Anyone. For at least a year.
- Same with Facebook, tumblr, google+, LinkedIn…and if you DO just HAVE to media socialize with your new forum buds, for at least a good while, use your screen name and create a profile. And DON’T put anything on there except forum-related stuff. No pics, no high school, no “where I work.” Nada.
- People who want to help you need to know you are married and roughly how long – roughly. They will need to know if you have any kids and what phase of life they are in (preschool, grade school, out of the house). BUT they do not need to know that you have been married 23.5 years and have two girls aged 7 and 9 and one boy aged 12. They also do not need to know WHERE you live in order to help you, unless it is a very, very different culture from across the world. IF you met the OM/OW at work, that can be important, but no one has to know what you do for a living.
- If there is a protected forum, use it.
- Wait at least a half hour before responding to a post. Even if someone just wrote you the most insulting, low, arrogant, sarcastic post on earth…don’t respond immediately. In fact, the madder it makes you, the longer you should wait. You are most vulnerable when you are emotional, and that is when you share things you wouldn’t normally share.
- Try to stick to one forum. This is not because there is only one way. This is also for your safety.
- Be courteous even when attacked. You are going to be attacked. You have just done something very painful, and a lot of the people posting to you have had that done to them. It’s triggering. Someone is going to project. That is life. If you cannot handle someone’s anger, then again, use the Ignore button. You will never win that kind of battle and, let’s face it, no matter how much you are hurting, you don’t want to hurt them either.
- If anything makes you feel unsafe, report it immediately and keep the post. I do not mean if someone is “mean” to you. I mean if they say something cryptic or veiled that make your “spidey senses” tingle. Copy and paste it, keep it, and let the moderators know that something makes you very nervous. However, unless you have been on the forum for a while and would pretty much bet your firstborn’s life that the moderator can be trusted, don’t get too specific with them either.
- Find out who believes what. There are some people who will respect your privacy. There are some who will not. There are some who feel they have been appointed by God as “the great exposer.” Don’t make any of the people in the latter category mad. In fact, don’t make anyone with a hair trigger and a fragile ego on the Internet mad. Your children will thank you.
- Know the law. You probably don’t have much of a leg to stand on if your own spouse finds out about your affair and outs you. After all, he or she is part of the marriage. However, with the advent and progression of privacy laws, stalking laws, and cyber-bullying laws, you DO have legal recourse if a stranger takes on that task. You can be completely remorseful and still protect yourself and your family from outsiders.
This is a word you may hear a lot. What does it mean? Well, even if you aren’t religious, you probably know the word has semi-religious origins. The literal translation of THAT version of the word is to turn and go in the other direction. The only way to truly recover from cheating is to turn and go in the other direction. That means stop cheating. The only way to recover from being dishonest and deceitful is for YOU to decide to be honest. And remember, we’re talking being honest with the person on whom you cheated. Again, telling strangers the number of kids you have, your hair color, and your zip code does not count as necessary honesty. If you want your life to change, YOU have to change.
You live in a real world. If you are the breadwinner in your house, you cannot make it without your salary, and you have a special needs child who is in a great program a mile from your house…quitting your job today and moving 350 miles away is not realistic. If you cannot do that, say so and then do not respond to any further conversations about it. If you met your affair partner at work, start sending out resumes and applications yesterday, but being homeless is not going to recover your marriage. If your mother-in-law already hates you and she’s been a wedge between you for your entire marriage, then no, she does NOT need to know everything once you confess. Period. BUT, you do need to, as a couple, let some supportive people know. If your child is 6 years old and autistic or 16 years old and a bulimic cutter, you do NOT need to tell them Mommy cheated on Daddy. At least not right away. Period. They probably will need to know at some point, but not while he is screaming or while she is holding a razor. Let’s use our brains.
When used safely, forums can be an amazing recovery resource. Listen, learn, even when you don’t like what you hear. Try to keep the emotions in check so you can distinguish and understand that some of the stuff you don’t want to hear is exactly what you need to hear. At least 80% of people on most forums want to help other people recover themselves and/or their marriages. Try to have some faith…in a responsible way.