After watching in disgust over the last months as John Edwards, Tiger Woods and Jesse James all had their dirty laundry aired before a world-wide audience, I have found myself relating to the women and children who are dealing with the pain of those betrayals. I know all too well the embarrassment and shock that comes from finding that someone you loved and trusted is not the person you believed them to be—nor is your life what you imagined. It has, quite possibly, all been a lie.
I know women cheat, and are as guilty as men of this behavior, but I can only speak from the side I know, and so I offer this open letter to men who cheat. To clarify, I am specifically writing this letter to men who cheat who are husbands and fathers.
To Men Who Cheat:
Perhaps you got married too young. Perhaps you married the wrong person and know it now. Perhaps there is nothing wrong in your marriage and you can’t help yourself. Whatever the reason you are stepping outside of your marriage—whether it is once, twice, or too many times to count—you have no excuse. You may think—if only you knew MY situation. Well, I do. I grew up watching my parents in a broken marriage and knowing my father was cheating. I knew it before I knew what cheating meant. I knew it before I knew what sex was. I knew it and learned it before I learned what it meant to fall in love or be in love.
You may say that there was no way for a child of four to know all that. You would be wrong. While I didn’t know the details, I overheard arguments my parents swear (to this day) that I could not have heard because they took care to be quiet. Even when I recite word for word things I heard at four years old and still remember verbatim, they deny it. They deny it as the shock washes over their faces that I could say those words. Words they DID speak over thirty years ago. Words I have never once forgotten. Words I recorded in my head, words I didn’t understand the meaning of. But each syllable remained in my brain until each year passed and I understood their definitions.
Not only are you hurting someone that at least at one time you cherished—adored—loved—enough to stand in front of a churchful of people, and/or God, or just everyone you knew and loved on both sides of your families and someone legally allowed to unite you—and said—YOU are the one, and I will do right by you, honor you. Not only are you hurting this woman, changing her life, demeaning her, disrespecting her, hurting her in ways she could never have imagined…you aren’t just cheating on her. You are cheating on the children you brought into this world.
If I know you, and I do, you have somehow separated the two things completely. What is going on with you and your mistress(es) has NOTHING to do with your children. You love your children unconditionally. And they love you the same way. And therein lies the key. You expect their unconditional love despite your actions. And you will get it. And it won’t cost you a thing. But, it will cost them everything.
No matter how careful you believe you are, how little you think your wife knows, how justified you think you are for what you are doing, know that, in addition to damaging your wife’s self esteem, your children’s self images will be redrawn by your choices. You can shake your head reading these words. But, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it will happen.
Your son may grow to resent you for your treatment of his mother, but somehow, inexplicably in the torment of learning what we live as children, he may grow up to do the same thing, cause the same pain, repeating what may be a never-ending cycle of broken vows and lost faith.
Your daughter may grow up to date and/or marry men who treat her just as you are treating your wife now. And somehow, no matter how hard she tries to choose differently, she will always end up with this same type of man. And the cycle will continue as her children learn what they live.
And this I can promise you. No matter how your children end up, at one time or another, and maybe always, they will somehow blame themselves for what you have done. It makes no sense, and you may believe there is no possibility of this. But, they will. They do. Right now. They believe if only they had done something different, you wouldn’t have torn their family apart, wouldn’t have made such an important and devastating choice.
So, as you make a list of all the reasons you are justified, or even if you feel you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone… ask yourself this: is it REALLY worth it? Is a lifetime of damage and pain that will repeat itself for generations…is that worth it?
It’s not. I promise you. Some words of advice…if you are headed in the cheating direction…be a man. Step up to the plate and either make a choice to heal your marriage—or leave. How many times have those of us who grew up in these households heard that our parents stayed together for the children? This gift you are giving us is a ticking time bomb. This gift of “staying” is a prison sentence for everyone involved. Show us (your children) that real adults face the end of things and respect everyone involved enough to do the hard things. To make the hard choices. To do the right thing even when it isn’t easy. Teach us how to be honest, to make tough decisions, to treat people with respect.
Perhaps none of this will happen. Perhaps you will never be caught. Perhaps if you are (or have already been) caught, there will be no repercussions. Perhaps your wife will remain whole and unscarred, and your children will grow up to find the love you somehow didn’t, and have the healthiest of relationships, the happiest of families. Perhaps. And maybe you won’t regret what you are doing or have done. Maybe it won’t matter one bit.
But, ask yourself…how likely is that?
Read the words I have written above, read almost every entry on this blog. I am your daughter, decades from now, all grown up, living with the choices you have made or are making.
I can answer a lot of questions for you.
I can tell you how my life has been changed, altered and damaged by these choices you have made or are making, how it still affects my life even as I have just celebrated my 40th birthday.