Phases of Infidelity

2021-02-21 4 min read

I’ve been thinking about boldness and inviting more boldness into my life and work. It has occurred to me that nothing is more bold than vulnerability in our world of carefully curated public facades. These works are the most vulnerable I’ve ever created. I made them in 2019. I always planned to share them with the hope they would speak to someone who shares these same wounds, but I never felt ready or able. It seems surreal that these are 1.5 years old already, when the healing work they represent is still very much in progress. I present to you Phases of Infidelity. A series of work that helped me to process an agony and betrayal that I’d never felt before in my sheltered life. This work serves not to rehash the drama or details of that time, but to process those emotions and depict what was for me a path towards healing.

Phases of Infidelity beings with I. “Let Me Explain," a hollow empty sound. 

I really admire people in true polyamorous relationships. Not gross polygamist ones where men collect women who do not share the same freedom to love others as he does. True polyamorous relationships, I imagine, are trust each other’s partnership enough to set each other free. To practice non attachment with a person where you do not attempt to possess each other. I believe you can be committed to one another’s lifelong well-being, thriving and spiritual growth without needing to monopolize them. I’m not arrived in that space. I still very much possess the monogamist rearing I received and continue to receive in our puritanically rooted society. But I’m saying this to make clear that the trauma was not that a physical act occurred. The trauma was abandonment and mistreatment in a trusted partnership. This would have been a trauma in any partnership. Not something that can be explained away.

Phase II.  “Overwhelm” of despair and loneliness and clutching at worthiness of love. 

This perfidy by a partner I love caused some devastating monsters to take up residence inside me; insecurity, self-loathing, and a deep fear of abandonment. I was ruled by them constantly and it felt like drowning. I was so severely altered inside I was sure everyone I passed in the street could see, smell and feel my shame. These monsters are still with me, but they're less monster, more companion now. I’m able to notice their presence without always being overpowered by them. I hope that feels hopeful to anyone else still ruled by their monsters. 

Phase III. “What Now?” Here I felt ready to face and converse with my partner about what happened and how it affected me. Ask him questions. Acknowledge our shared humanity and shared pain caused by his infidelity.  

I realized that I was taking so many onlookers’ opinions into account other than my own. I felt like my every move was being watched and my most intimate personal life decisions were on display for all to see. I wanted to collect a survey on what they all thought I should do. I was so worried about how my decision to mend our partnership or not would be perceived. I put off my healing and action because I didn’t want to be seen as weak or pathetic for mending my relationship. 

In many ways I think it would have been much easier not to forgive and let him back into my life. I want to be clear that you can also forgive and never speak to that person again. Letting go of animosity towards that person, while also learning that they are not good for you is also forgiveness. 

Ultimately I recognized that I was punishing myself in order to punish him and in order to act the way I thought the onlookers of my life would admire and expect of me. I separated myself from those influences and was able to see that I still wanted to be with him. I wanted to heal with him. I wanted to make my own happiness and then invite him back to add to what I’d made.

Phase IV. “Coming back to the Self”, a lifelong pursuit. Acknowledging that I am the love I have been seeking. Knowing I won’t be with someone who treats me as lesser because I am a true partner to myself.

So I took space to myself. It took time but I remembered what it was like to be just me, and how  wonderful that can be. I knew without a doubt that I would be okay, no matter what happened between me and any other person. I came back to myself before I came back to my partnership.

I continue to move through these phases in a cycle, but always in a different place than the last time I entered that phase. I’m slowly spiraling upwards I think, reaching Phase IV more easily. Communicating in Phase III with less rage and hurt. Sitting in the pain of Phase II with respect and patience. Passing less judgment in Phase I. The healing work it has taken to spiral this far upwards has been intentional, and it has had to be solitary. 

I know I’m not alone in this experience. Each of our circumstances differ, but I remember feeling so alone, even though I never really was. You’re not alone. All the answers are inside you. Do not seek externally that which you can only find by coming back to yourself. Move gently, stay with us. I love you.

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