ASK ABDI: I'M NOT SURE HOW TO MOVE FORWARD?
QUESTION: My best friend and most trusted confidante became my lover when my marriage was decidedly over. I'd always loved him. He entered his marriage out of duty, not love. His wife has always strayed outside of the marriage. There was never love. He is inclined to stay for societal, religious, financial, and familial reasons. I have been separated from my husband for years, living under the same roof, raising our children. It is a daily challenge. Our affair lasted for six years; two of which were push and pull and filled with dismay over the situation. He decided to stay in his marriage. l never thought he'd leave me. There are many details and complications, but in the end when suspicions arose, instead of simple denial, he portrayed me as having unrequited love for him, and he was not kind. All along, he wanted me to know that there had never been anyone like me and that we shared a deep connection. The loss of love is great, but the loss of a 30-year friendship is unbearable. I feel so conflicted. I have tried to understand his position, protecting himself, but I will never understand why the betrayal. His reply is that I knew he would lie until, if ever, he was ready to be truthful about us. I thought he was the person who loved me most and I feel a deep level of emptiness without him. I'm not sure how to move forward, with or without him.
ANSWER: Betrayal in love is such painful business. It is natural to seek healing by attempting to understand the other person's behavior. But of course, it does not work that way; it is only time that allows the sharp sting to soften. It is important however to dissect such situations in order, at the very least, to not repeat them.
First, when a friendship turns into a love affair, we can be under the false impression that it is the same person (friend) that we are still involved with as a lover. Not necessarily true: unless the person is undamaged or has done healing work, the sexual connection can bring up all kinds of wounding that was not present in the friendship. You have direct experience of this. This is why we have to stay super conscious if we transfer a friendship into a sexual relationship.
Second, is that we all can make the mistake of projecting our way of behavior onto another. You had the courage to separate from your husband, even though you’ve lived under the same roof for the sake of raising your children. That is you. Your friend did not possess the same strength or courage. You say that "he entered his marriage out of duty", I would say that he did so because of unconscious wounding. Regardless of what on the surface might look like "societal, religious, financial, and familial reasons" of staying in an unhealthy relationship, there is always an underlying personal wounding that does not allow us to step outside. The fact that "his wife has always strayed outside of the marriage" and "there was never love" and yet he stayed, are all signs of that wounding. Your love and connection with him were not going to change that.
It is normal to try to understand his betrayal as a reflection of you, but in fact it had nothing to do with you. This behavior was there before, during, and after your affair. It is not a betrayal of you but of him towards himself. It is just that you stepped into the firing line unconsciously and were dealt the same card. Our unaddressed pain can and does turn us into cowards. Your love was not going to change that. Only his own conscious internal work will do that if he ever gets around to it.
Your work now is to turn inward and become your own lover and friend. I know the pain is unbearable. Nothing to be done there but to learn to tolerate it while knowing that this too shall pass. Get the focus off of this man and onto yourself. Be gentle with your heart while looking in to see where this blind spot of yours comes from. The emptiness we all feel can only be filled from the well of self. Nothing external will ever fill it; at best all those things are temporary salves that numb. This is advanced internal work: it is only when we come to our knees that we have the possibility of this depth of healing. And remembering.
Most of us keep busy with external distractions for most, if not all, of our lives. This is akin to trying to feed ourselves by shoving spoonfuls of food into the mirror that we stand in front of instead of our mouths. This is why we are all so starving. Here is your chance to finally meet yourself and give her the love you so easily bestow onto another. Feed her and feast in finally cutting out the middleman and nourishing yourself directly.