Guilt is self-anger — it is also the opposite of blame. First, recognize that when a spouse has an affair, it is because the marriage is not working. Of course, it would have been healthier for both of you if you had tried counseling before you engaged with a new partner. Or if you wanted to be with someone else, it would have felt less like a betrayal to the marriage if you had moved out of the home and separated before dating. The truth is that you cannot change the past, but you must deal with reality.
California divorce law includes no-fault divorce. You don’t lose legal rights because you had an affair. You must seek what is fair to you and your spouse under family law — and deal with the emotional issues separately from the financial issues. Apologize to your husband for what he perceives as a betrayal. Take responsibility for what happened, but also know that you are only 50% at fault for the problems in the marriage.
If you are involved in litigation — or even better, mediation — and your consulting counsel and mediator discuss spousal support with you and explain your rights, don’t let your guilt get in the way. The law is very clear that if you have a need and your spouse is able to pay, and the facts show that you are eligible (to live at the marital standard, especially in a long-term marriage of more than ten years), you need to be realistic. That also means to be fair to both yourself and your spouse. Get some emotional counseling and don’t accept your spouse’s blame and attacks. Tell your spouse that you intend to pursue a career that will enable you to support yourself, as soon as possible considering the factors (i.e. your age, your health, your need to care for small children, etc.).
Educate yourself as to the spousal-support guidelines for your situation. Be realistic about your ability to move on financially after divorce. Don’t depend on your new significant other to take care of you financially. If you are mediating your divorce, you can work on ways to heal the hurt and reduce blame and guilt, by negotiating a mutually agreeable temporary support that will help you take small steps that can be adjusted easily and cost-effectively. But whether you are in litigation, collaboration, or mediation, if you refuse to accept spousal support when it is advised, you may feel guilty now — but it will turn to blame when you have difficulty making ends meet and your spouse has his own new relationship! Don’t be foolish; listen to logic, not your emotionally charged guilt.
Mari Frank is a divorce attorney-mediator in Laguna Niguel, CA (Orange County). She has been featured on numerous national television shows including 48 Hours, Dateline, NBC Nightly News, and The O’Reilly Factor and in newspapers across the nation including the L.A. Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.