I have spoken to hundreds of people who have cheated, been cheated on or have been the person who a person cheated with.

Some have been all three at some point.

I’ve always thought it crucial to really hear the thoughts and experiences behind the stats….so I ask. And I listen. With an open heart, keen to understand and diligent to get how context, experiences and feelings interplay to create these situations. Below I am going to share the inside thoughts and experiences of three people. All gave me permission to share. Two spoke to me and asked me to write it and one wrote it personally. I changed some details to protect identity but the important parts are all real, all raw and some parts may be hard to read.

Without hesitation, I know reading all three will stir emotions within you and make you want to ask things and talk about topics it elicits within you to others. I strongly encourage you to do so. I also hope it will stir conversations within yourself. Don’t be afraid to have these internal explorations.

These three people wanted to share their stories to help you. Help you understand. Help you ask questions. Help you see something in yourself. Help you understand someone like them you may have in your life. Help give personal context to the conversation.

Read them all. With an open heart. Pay attention to what resonates with you. What pisses you off. What you can relate to and what seems horrible. And everything in-between. Let these stories inform you about YOU. After the stories I write a little blurb summing up what I think you should do with the stories.

All three stories/sides matter. All three should be explored and examined.

* These stories are so common that you may think I am sharing your story or parts of it if you know me personally or have worked with me. But unless I spoke with you and got your permission…these aren’t your stories. That is how often I hear these sorts of stories. Know you aren’t alone.

SIMONE

This is not an easy story to write. I am full of fear of what people will think and will anyone read this and figure out it is me. I want to own what I have experienced and feel deep in my heart that someone will read this and hear themselves in it. I have always needed attention. I never felt good enough. Guys overlooked me and saw me as their friend and would pursue my friends for dates. I learned to put out to get their attention. It worked but it didn’t last. I went through high school with no boyfriend and felt like shit about that. In college I started getting noticed and loved having guys go after me for more than just sex. I ended up meeting my husband my last year in college. He wanted me and that was enough and actually it was all that I wanted. We had a good marriage at first because he was fulfilling my need-to check off that someone would marry me. I didn’t need more. Then I wanted kids and we made that happen. Check. I was fairly happy in my career but it wasn’t a top priority.

Once I hit 40 I hit my peak in looks, body fitness and confidence. The kids were no longer so needy and I loved the new level of confidence and attention I was receiving. I got a lot of attention. Heads turned when I entered a room, our friends flirted with me more, people at work talked about me being the ‘hot one’.

I fed off of it. The more outside men flirted with me, the more my husband’s attention became less important and less meaningful. If I’m really being honest, he became annoying to me. Less than. I started noticing his laziness and how boring he was. He didn’t make me laugh and didn’t flirt with me and I dreaded having sex with him. I would avoid having to kiss him the most because he kisses felt immature and almost desperate. They were a total disconnect. Kissing him was worse for me than having sex. Man that is awful to write. I know how terrible that sounds.

There was a guy at work who I thought was really hot and flirted with me quite a bit. I loved it. We started hanging around each other more and I realized I thought about him all the time.   We emailed each other funny things and had personal jokes we would say to each other during work meetings. One day I took the leap and told him to FB message me. He did before I got home. I felt 15 again. I lived for those messages. They made me so happy and it felt like a drug. Each ‘ding’ was like a hit. I don’t know how my husband didn’t notice. He did make comments about how happy I seemed lately and that made him happy but he didn’t seem suspicious.

As you can imagine, things progressed quickly. He admitted he was unhappy in his relationship. I told him how miserable I was in mine. We flirted and started sending sexy texts then sexy pictures. The sexual tension between us was unbelievable. So fun. I could hardly think of anything else. I planned my next joke to send him, if he took too long to write back I fretted and was pissed and as soon as he’d write I’d be happy again.

I knew we needed to have sex. So I planned it. I asked him to meet me out for drinks and planned the right time and place where no one would see us. I was so excited and nervous. There wasn’t an ounce of me that felt guilt. It was all about me and getting this thing to the next level. I didn’t think about how this would hurt my husband and I didn’t think about what people would think of me. I wanted to feel good, I wanted to feel wanted and I wondered if I was falling in love with him.

We met up, it was fun, it was hot and then we made out in his car afterwards. It was so fantastic. Beyond amazing. I wanted to wait to have sex but couldn’t. It happened pretty quickly. Not ideal and not romantic but it was hot. We didn’t use protection which surprised me because we had talked about it but it just felt so stupid at our age to do it.

When I went home and went to bed with my husband I felt some guilt. I took a shower out of fear he would smell the sex on me and he wanted to snuggle up to sleep and that felt kind of hard. But the truth is that my biggest two feelings were happiness for having landed such a great, hot guy and sad I wasn’t in bed with that guy and was with my boring husband. I felt slightly bad I had just betrayed my husband but the cold hard truth is I didn’t really care that much. I felt like I deserved it—“it” meaning deserved something better and something more.

The flirting kept up after that, we met up more, we got hotel rooms and even a couple of times did it in our houses. I became increasingly annoyed and distant with my husband and increasingly reckless with this guy. I think I wanted to get caught.

Then out of nowhere, he wrote me a text and said he couldn’t do it anymore. He felt bad about his girlfriend and we had run our course. I was crushed. Destroyed. Blindsided. I had a level of mourning that I can’t describe. He cut off all contact with me and changed his work habits so we hardly saw each other. I tried to reach out and I tried to plan things that would make us run into each other and it didn’t work. He was done and I had no say in it and my life felt over.

This is the part that I bet most people won’t have pity for me over. I had an invisible mourning that was crippling. I felt like something had died but I couldn’t seek support because no one knew about it and if I told people no one would feel bad for me because it was wrong.

But I felt like I was dying. I lost weight and I couldn’t get out of bed and I had no focus. I cared about nothing. I wanted to cry all day long. And then I’d want to scream and had the most psycho ideas of what to do to this guy. I mean wacky doodle ideas. Thank goodness I didn’t do any of them. Lord knows I got close. I was that desperate.

It has been three years. I never was found out to my knowledge. I eventually got through the mourning stuff with him but that hole has yet to be filled. I’ve had one more affair but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t want him the same. I felt more guilt this time too. No. It wasn’t guilt it was fear of getting caught for something that wasn’t worth it.

What’s next? I know I sound terrible and I know I need to keep working on me and I have. I am trying to commit more to my husband and let him have the chance to give me what I need. I try to stay grateful for what I have with him. But there is something missing. I am trying to figure out if that missing thing is within me, within our relationship or both. So I think therapy. Therapy is next.

What have I learned about myself?

I am not a terrible person. I’m not proud that I did something that isn’t acceptable in society but that doesn’t make me a terrible person. I learned I may not be able to be monogamous and I’m not sure I care. I’m not sure that is so bad.

And I learned I have a right to be loved. The way I want to be loved. I learned it is okay if I am unhappy in my marriage and I learned I may think it is okay if I stay in my marriage to not hurt my husband and break up my family and have side relationships that fulfill things in me my husband can’t.

FRANK

My job gives me lots of freedom in my schedule. I work odd hours and my schedule changes week to week. My wife’s work is very scheduled and she works long hours. So I have taken on the role of car-pooling and dinner making most days. I like this role but it also has taken a lot out of me. I feel like less of a man.

My wife is exhausted all of the time. When she comes home from work she wants to eat, hug the kids and gets on her phone. Her job makes her think a lot and give a lot to others so when she gets home she doesn’t have a lot to give us. So I get a lot of affection and connection with my kids. I know that isn’t right though. We should be more connected.

Our sex is mandatory and not very often. Maybe once every month and rarely happens if she hasn’t been drinking pretty heavily. And that makes our sex pretty awful and often depressing. I’d rather watch porn and get myself off frankly.

There is a neighbor friend I started noticing talking to me more.   Now that we have something together she tells me she wanted me months before I noticed. I just didn’t think that way. I’m middle aged, balding, gained quite a bit of weight and generally am not a hot bed of attraction. And I know it. I think I’ve just shut down that part of myself.

We do things with this couple. Family get togethers and kid events and just hanging out on the street for a happy hour. I know her husband well. He’s a great guy. We golf together and cook out together and done a few game nights.

That’s how it all started. Here is how it ended.

I know I’ve cheated on my wife and I know that part is just awful and I hate myself for it but I want to talk about my experience being the person someone cheated with.

I fell in love with her. It was slow but it happened. I grew to depend on her emotionally and I loved how she needed me. When we crossed the line from friends to flirting to sex we had already fallen in love. Our sex was great but it was making love more than a hot fuck. I really cared for this woman. And the problem was that I still loved my wife and family and I thought her husband was a great guy too. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t want our kids destroyed. I didn’t want my wife to feel messed up from the betrayal. But I knew we were risking that. I knew that her husband would feel pissed and betrayed and I wondered what he would do to me if he found out.

I lived in this double world. One with my wife and kids that was unfulfilling and pretty miserable and lonely but also gratifying and real and another where I felt loved and cared for and guilt ridden and fearful in. Neither was totally awful. And both brought my happiness. And I didn’t know how to get out of either one.

When I sat back and did the ‘would I want this on the front page of the newspaper test’ I thought first of her husband and then my kids and then my wife. I didn’t like thinking he would think less of me as a friend and as a man. I also didn’t want him to judge me or retaliate against me. I knew he would be so angry I was sleeping with his life and maybe worse in love with her and she with me.

We talked about marrying and would dream about how to make that happen and what it would look like. We rarely talked about how hard it would be but how to make it not hurt the our spouses.

We devised a plan to become terrible spouses so our spouse would leave us and feel in control. We told ourselves we would then date secretly and then say we fell in love as we supported each other by being left.   We were so stupid. We had no idea that our spouses suspected us. One day we were at her house with the kids downstairs and we were getting dressed when he walked in the room. Somehow he had turned off the house alarm that alerted you when the door opened so we didn’t notice. We also didn’t notice that my wife had come over and gotten all of the kids out of the house and to friends’ places for the evening.

He walked in calm and she and I both freaked out. She immediately went to him apologizing which killed me. I thought she would have come to me. He dismissed her and stared daggers at me. And said only this “You are a piece of shit. Get out of my house. Get out of my life. And if you want to live another day you will never speak to any of us again.”

I have never felt lower. I would have preferred if he had hit me. Probably what was hardest was leaving her. She was clearly choosing him and all of a sudden all of what she gave me was not only gone but clearly not worth it.

I never got to apologize to him. I never got to explain what happened and why. I was cut off. And so was our social life and our kids’ social life. It was all gone in a matters of minutes.

In the end, she and I were able to meet up one last time to talk and say goodbye. I pleaded for her to stay and she wanted to work things out with her husband. My wife had planned a big filing and had me move out of the house but ultimately I moved back in and we are trying to work it out. They still live near us and that is awful but neither of us can move.

Was it worth it? I don’t know. In a way yes because I truly loved her and is love really bad? Was it worth feeling like a piece of shit and hurting another man who really is a good person…no. I’ll never forget his face. Was it worth almost losing my kids? No but…..I honestly thought we’d be together and would raise our kids together so I wouldn’t have really lost them. I did feel special being the man she fell in love with. I did love knowing I fulfilled her and made her life better. Admittedly, there were times when we were all together that I was smug knowing she favored me over him. That’s shitty but true. In the end, as twisted as this seems….I really felt wanted by her and that made it worth it.

Would I do it again knowing how it ends? Probably not because the loss of that relationship has not been replaced with a great relationship with my wife and I really miss that connection. Now, she is tired, disinterested and angry with me. Sometimes I think  she plain hates me.

What’s next? Finding happiness in my life. It would be great with my wife but I really have to do it inside of me too. Stay busy? Find a hobby? Get a different job?

What have I learned about myself? I’m lonely. I’m unhappy in my marriage. I am capable of loving someone and being loved. And I want to feel loved by a woman. I’ve also learned I can put my own needs before what I think is right and what I know is right to do to another man’s family and to my own.

JENNIFER

When we met, he said to me “I am not a perfect man but one thing you can rely on is that I will never cheat on you. Never. Not in my DNA. I am loyal to a fault.”

And I will never forget the day he handed me his cell phone saying to me “I am an open book. You can look at anything. In fact I want you to, to prove to you I’m not doing anything.”

And then he walked out of the room.

I had looked one other time and it was awful to see his porn use. The pervasiveness of it. So I was honestly afraid to look. I did it though because I wanted to see he was being honest with me and confirm I was just being afraid instead of being right.

So I looked.

Not deeply but enough and I saw nothing. I sighed a big sigh of relief. I put the phone down.

Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked deeper within his Gmail app. So I picked it up and checked further. And there it was.

One email. With about 30 exchanges.

The world ended. I couldn’t breathe. This couldn’t be true.

He not only cheated on me. He cheated on me with a hooker. He not only cheated on me with a hooker, he saw her multiple times, hired her to hire other hookers with them, paid for very expensive hotel rooms at places that I thought were special to us.

Once I got my breath back, I read the last few emails. He tried to date her. He bought her things and he got rejected in the end. He didn’t end it. She did. That may have been the hardest part. Even a hooker didn’t want him in the end. That is how pathetic he was.

I waited until he got home. I was so calm and collected I didn’t feel like I was living in my body.

He walked up the steps and I said,

“We need to talk. I have someone to watch our daughter. I know you cheated on me with hookers. It is over.”

And that was it. A 15 year marriage was done.

I let him cross a lot of lines. It started with always staring at other women-beautiful women when we were out in public. (He said I was jealous and ridiculous and ALL MEN DO THIS.) It continued to copious amounts of porn use (He said that I needed to lighten up, that I needed to relax and that most of it was just monitoring what is out there or was accidently sent to him and opened via email. One time he said he looked at porn right after we finished having sex because the sex was so bad.). It led to memberships in cheating sites. (He swore he never acted on but signed up for when we would get in a fight.)

He kept saying all of those things were normal and expected and only a problem because I was so uptight. He said repeatedly “I know I’m a flawed man, I know I’m a lot to deal with but I swear to you—I will never cheat on you.”

I held on to that. It mattered to me. It was all I had left. My dignity was shredded.

We would hear about another couple who dealt with cheating and he would squeeze my hand and say “This isn’t us.”

And then it was.

I don’t know if he cheated on me before the hookers. I saw multiple hooker memberships and lots of attempts to hook up but could never prove it. I tried. I was a CIA detective for awhile. Obsessed with needing to know the details, the facts, the whys. It didn’t help though. I needed to know but it didn’t help. There may have been other women. Friends. Co-workers. There were accusations that I wrote off. Probably did. I’ll never really know.

How did this effect me? I’ve never felt worse about myself. So unwanted and unloved. So not good enough. It brought up every fear I ever had. It was my worst nightmare. I’m still trying to feel good enough. I don’t trust anyone.

I don’t trust myself the most. That is the most damaging part of this all. I don’t trust my own judgment anymore. In men, in my career, in my parenting. My whole worldview was shattered.

Do I wish I had never found out? No. I’m glad I know. He was escalating and getting more reckless and I’m so glad I wasn’t at more risk physically. We were still having sex. A lot actually and I’m so glad I didn’t catch anything.

What’s next? Healing. Learning to trust again. Trying to forgive him. Trying to find compassion for him. Trying to find compassion for me. Salvaging a new life for myself. I really wanted that family to work and it didn’t and now I know people can look you in the face and lie. And then have sex with you and say they love you. And then go have sex with someone else and pursue them. Hmmmmm still having some feelings. So….I guess that means more healing.

What have I learned about myself? I am strong. I am vulnerable. I am fallible. I am fragile. I am fierce. I want to be open to love again and I want to trust men again. And more than anything, I learned I really do need to trust in myself.

So what is the importance of these stories?

An inside look into the complexity of cheating. Think of context before condemning. Think of the feelings and needs and fallibility of us all before stamping an opinion onto finding out someone or a couple has had cheating enter their lives.

Ask yourself:

  1. What parts of the stories hit an emotional chord within you?
  2. Who made you mad/disgusted?
  3. What do you think is a relationship between cheating and being a victim?
  4. What ‘advice’ pieces were bubbling up within you for each person?
  5. How do any of these people’s thoughts, experiences and challenges resonate in your life?
  6. What questions do these stories arise within you?
  7. Do you have the courage to explore these topics privately? If you are partnered, will you have a discussion about these stories with your partner?

If you hear yourself in one or more of these stories, know you aren’t alone. Everyone in these stories needs healing and compassion and support.

If you learn of someone in your family or friend/work circle, have compassion. For all sides. I guarantee you don’t have the full picture of it all.

DON’T:

  1. Be the shallow gossiper who quickly condemns the accused and judges the one cheated on secretly too. I know stories that would make you rethink who the actual wounded party is in the once obvious situation.
  1. Be the person who points fingers that you would never do that or never have that happen to you. I’ve worked with numerous people who are full of regret and remorse because they took fidelity for granted and either became the cheater or was cheated on and had huge amounts of remorse for how they treated or judged others in similar situations before them.
  2. Be the person who doesn’t lend support to the cheater or cheated on because the situation is sticky or awkward or you are afraid cheating is something you can ‘catch’. All parties in these situations need support and love and compassion. That does not mean you have to agree or think it is okay.

DO:

  1. Ask how you can help. And ask a couple of times.
  2. Do say you are sorry things are happening.
  3. Do keep details confidential and help shut down gossip.
  4. If your loved one needs to vent, listen. If they need to cry, bring a tissue. If they need to not think about it, distract them.
  5. Know that all parties will be going through a mourning period that involves sadness, anger, denial and acceptance and there is no set timeframe or rhythm to the healing process. It is individual and each couple deals with it differently too.
  6. Put aside what you ‘know’ you would do or wouldn’t do in ‘that situation’. Because you don’t. Not until it is you. At that point in time. In your particular situation.

There are many variations of the above stories. I can’t include them all. But you know them. Infidelity is awful, frankly. It destroys hearts and families and dreams and sometimes even innocence.

I know….I’ve experienced it. Epically. And because I’ve experienced it I also know that it isn’t the end of the world. People heal and grow and figure it out and move on and find love again and find trust again.

In next week’s last installment with this series I am going to wrap up the topic by exploring the notion of fidelity, thoughts from my followers you answered a survey and who have been writing me privately the past three weeks and ideas of where we go from here on the topic of cheating and fidelity.

I want to leave you with these questions in this article….why do we call it ‘cheating’? Who is being cheated? And what are they being cheated of?

As always….. give me your thoughts and questions in the comment section on my website or FB post. Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter.

Much love. X oh, Dr. Juliana