If you are truly remorseful for your affair, and you truly wish to not only make amends to your Betrayed Spouse, but remake your marriage in such a way that an affair would never be an issue again, you have much work to do. You may not even be able to save the marriage as some Betrayed Spouses just can’t get past it. Repairing this — if it’s repairable – usually takes a long time. A year or more. While I’m not suggesting that you have to hang in there no matter what — that you may have a spouse who seeks punishment more than forgiveness — there are things you need to avoid if you want your marriage to be saved.
But as much as you just want to yell “I’m sorry!!” or “But I’ve changed!” and hope that your spouse will just forgive, forget and quickly move on, that’s just not likely. And it’s naive. You’ve destroyed someone who trusted and loved you. Being sorry isn’t enough. Not nearly enough! You must avoid these 20 mistakes, at minimum:
1. Not being sorry!! I have heard too many former cheaters say that they are sorry they hurt their spouses, but aren’t sorry for the affair. These people should get divorced if they can’t be sorry for the betrayal they inflicted on their spouse, even if they feel justified on any level.
If you don’t state that you are sorry for your actions, let alone show any remorse at all, you’re telling your spouse that their feelings are of no consequence and you aren’t serious about saving your relationship. In fact, it is vital that you demonstrate and state your full remorse. I would suggest writing a full apology. Don’t try to make excuses and don’t try to justify what you did, you didn’t have to have an affair, you chose of your own free will to do this so take responsibility for your actions. Even if the reason was that your marriage was crappy. “Reason” is not the same as “excuse.”
Just saying “I’m sorry” is not enough. Your apology needs to cover what you did, so that’s lying, betrayal, and accepting that you have lost all right to your partners trust, it has to include a guarantee that you will never do something so stupid again, you need to ask for another chance and let your spouse know that you will do anything it takes to win their trust back, and most important of all you have to show that you can understand the hurt that you have done to your spouse.
I myself wrote a sincere letter of apology to my wife shortly after D-Day. It was hard to do. It was humiliating, yet, I think it demonstrated to her my sincerity and was integral to us pursuing reconciliation. It can’t be enough to just say it once. Or yell it. It needs to be thought out and sincere.
2. Providing critical information about your affair only reluctantly and in dribs and drabs (“trickle truth”). The revelation of an affair or sexual addiction is a frightening process, but one of the worst mistakes is trying to hold back the whole truth. Similarly, spinning the truth so your mate won’t be so upset is just as damaging. I know why most former cheaters are reluctant to be 100% candid — fear. They are already under assault and trying to save their marriage, and believe that too many details will derail any potential reconciliation. They want the pain, yelling and anger to stop. Controlling the “truth” about your affair is not the way to do it, however.
The problem with leaking information is that it delays your mate’s ability to learn to trust you again. If your mate believes that you’ve laid out the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that there are no more surprises or painful revelations yet to come and then your mate encounters multiple “oh by the ways” or other discoveries as time goes on, then it will eventually destroy your mate’s ability to believe a single word you say.
For that reason, it is best to lay it all out on the front end. Either your mate will be able to handle the truth or not. Getting the truth out, all of it and unvarnished, to your mate is a great opportunity to display real integrity. Something you may feel you’ve been lacking if you’ve had to hide your actions or lie. Don’t miss your chance. Tell the whole truth about the affair (eg, when it started, how long it went on, how it was kept a secret, how it ended — if it’s ended) as soon as you can. Your Betrayed Spouse needs and deserves a timeline.
That being said, telling the whole truth about the affair has been widely misinterpreted by some Betrayed Spouses as meaning they can demand the answers to any and all questions about the affair indefinitely. That’s not the case if you want to recover. There needs to be a time limit to when discussing the affair ceases. You Betrayeds should get your answers early and then focus on the marriage (the cause usually) and not the affair or the OM/OW (the symptom). Asking new questions a year or more after D-day won’t help you but will only retard progress and discourage your Wayward Spouse.
And yes, there is a limit to details — some details are necessary — lay out the truth about the affair: how it began, how long it lasted, whether it was emotional only, physical only or both. How it ended. How you pulled off the deception.
The “whole truth” doesn’t mean giving out salacious details or unnecessary information merely because your Betrayed Spouse asks for it. Giving out too much information will only put images in your spouse’s head they will never be able to shed. I wrote a blog entry about why many former cheaters resist giving out details. I won’t repeat it here.
Giving the whole truth, however, doesn’t guarantee recovery. But it gives you the best chance of recovering. I know Waywards who have answered every question, no matter how unnecessary and salacious, and STILL their spouse demanded a divorce. That being said, being deceptive about your affair is a bad, bad idea. Revelations that are critical to the affair and its timeline that come out later will derail your recovery. Your Betrayed already doesn’t trust you. Don’t add to it by lying further.
3. Being immediately defensive. This is a no-no. This is not the time to employ the old adage of “the best defense is a good offense.” But not in the immediate aftermath of affair discovery/revelation. No, this is the time to be contrite, regretful, remorseful, empathetic, compassionate, honest, and emotionally available. At least for now, do not say anything which will give the impression that the betrayed partner was responsible for your lies to them or in any way caused your behavior. There will be plenty of time to share blame during times of productive conversation with your mate. It may be that there were significant problems in the relationship prior to your betrayal, and that those problems were 50% (or 60% or 70%) the responsibility of your spouse.
Nevertheless, the fact that you chose to betray your partner rather than to raise the issues and work on them in an honest way is 100% your fault. Therefore, DO NOT waste time blaming your actions on anyone or anything else. DO NOT point the finger toward temptation, confusion, being under the influence, or falling prey to the influence of others. Nobody held a gun to your head. You choose to be involved in an affair. You should have no room for excuses anymore.
Telling your partner you did not realize what was happening is not only bogus, it devalues them. The partner will see right through these excuses and will view this as another attempt to keep them in the dark while you continue playing them for a fool. The best way to effectively deal with your partner’s anger, and start the process of rebuilding trust, is to take complete and full ownership of your own selfishness, immaturity, or basic destructive relationship behavior. Remind yourself that it is quite possible that your partner was enduring similar feelings of unhappiness or frustration, but instead made a decision not to lie to you or betray you.
You have to take responsibility for your choices, no matter if your marriage was crap or not. You made the wrong choice. Accept it. At least for a while, be willing to be humble and take some lumps — you deserve them. Try and see yourself if you were in your Betrayed Spouse’s place.
Since the revelation of a betrayal is so traumatic, there is no room for defensiveness. You’re better off using two phrases: 1) “You’re right” (when they are right) and 2) “I deserve that” (even when they are wrong). Answering the “why” questions is tricky at best. Any explanation you give will be perceived as an excuse. The best answer for the why questions is to tell your mate you will do everything possible to search for the answer, but admit you don’t want to sound defensive while trying to answer a question you don’t necessarily know the answer to. Whatever you do, don’t be defensive!!
At this point, you might be saying, “I don’t want to take all the blame; my wife (or husband) made her (or his) own contributions to what has happened. We had issues in this relationship long before I had an affair.”
This is legitimate. Happy and content people rarely have affairs. Your spouse usually has some guilt in creating the situation in a marriage where an affair became an attractive option to you. And while that may be true, your first order of business needs to be the stabilization of the marriage. So at least initially, you must give your mate time to recover, and then begin to address the other issues in the marriage. You can insist on these things, but later. One of your first steps will be avoiding defensiveness when talking with your mate.
I do understand. I tried to tell her everything initially and was patient, but my patience wore thin the more she had meltdowns. I started to feel defensive. I started to act defensive. We were at the point where things could have derailed completely. But we talked about it. She understood why I felt defensive. My shame. My guilt. My embarrassment. Tired of the accusations. Tired of feeling like the bad guy. Talking about it helped. Telling her I was feeling defensive and why usually defused the situation.
4. Agreeing to marital reconciliation immediately after the affair is discovered. Honestly, you are shell-shocked and you can’t yet think clearly. You just want the yelling and abuse to stop. It’s like a fire and you will do anything to put it out. But wait. Don’t fully recommit to your spouse and your marriage until you are SURE that’s what you want to do. You may end up breaking their heart again. Didn’t you already do enough damage?
Tell them that you will end the affair. Permanently. Tell them you are going to give all your effort and attention to making amends and reconciling the marriage. That you will do whatever it takes. But don’t tell them immediately that you are committed to the marriage forever. You might have second thoughts. Your reconciliation may not work. You might not have a spouse who really wants to reconcile as much as they just want to hurt you back (a very bad sign). Your spouse may not want to address the root causes of your issues — so the reasons you had the affair may persist in the marriage. So step back for a moment.
Assess the situation. Be sorry. Be open and honest. Commit to trying to fix the marriage. But don’t make any more promises you cannot keep. You may come to regret a knee-jerk reaction to your affair being revealed to your spouse. You already have a bad track record of keeping promises — don’t add to it.
5. Living life as normal, at least initially. You can’t immediately try and go on living life as normal if you want to bring healing to your marriage after a betrayal. Normal is what got you into this. You have to make changes in your behavior to make your spouse feel “safe” again and to show that you are living a more transparent and honest life. Changes need to be made to give your mate assurance that you’re taking responsibility for your problem and being proactive to prevent it from happening again.
To some, it may seem elementary to make sure and build safety in a concrete way, but it cannot be stressed enough. Taking responsibility for your betrayal by avoiding high risk situations and getting the necessary help to get your life (as well as that of your mate) back into safety is part of taking responsibility for your infidelity. If you want to rebuild your marriage, this is not optional. Make them aware of the ways that you have altered your life in order to create a culture of safety. These are the things that will assure her that it’s not “life as normal.”
You don’t want to spend 24/7 dealing with tears, yelling and high emotion. I’m not saying that. But you don’t want to go back to the life you had before and during the affair. You want something BETTER. Your marriage is a blank canvas that needs to be repainted reflecting a happier present and future. Don’t try and force yourself and marriage back into the rut that got you where you are.
6. Defending your Affair Partner (AP). It may seem to go without saying, but don’t defend the Other Woman/Other Man. Most likely your mate will trash the affair partner. Don’t try to defend your affair partner if they do. It’s easier for your spouse to be angry with the Affair Partner than it is for her (or him) to be angry with you, and if you defend the Affair Partner, your mate is likely to feel that you are more loyal to the Affair Partner than you are to your mate and your marriage.
I understand the impulse of the Betrayed to do it, and I agree that it’s very unhelpful and is a way of avoiding the real issue — the state of your marriage — but understand their need at least to vent about the Affair Partner. Let them. Be patient. But bring them back to the true topic, because, in reality, unless your AP held a gun to your head, they weren’t responsible for you having an affair. Bashing the Affair Partner is about frustration, and really is a way of taking the focus both off the Betrayed and Wayward Spouse. It may even be out of insecurity (seems like Betrayed Spouses always say that they are so much better looking, smarter, better lover than the AP. It’s true sometimes, but other times, it’s not). But you have to tolerate it. At least for a while.
I understand that if your AP is being trashed, your Betrayed Spouse is essentially and indirectly attacking you too — they are saying in essence, “How could YOU choose to cheat with someone so stupid/ugly/horrid/tasteless?” They are indirectly telling you that you are an idiot. Ouch!! I get it. You are tired of the criticisms from your spouse and here’s another one, although indirect and disguised. You want to defend yourself by defending your Affair Partner. But defending your AP will send the wrong message!
7. Pointing out your mate’s faults and failures. Deficiencies certainly exist in every marriage, but now is not the time to deal with them. First, you have to re-establish the fidelity and stability of the relationship. Then, after the breach in the relationship is repaired, you can address other issues. Firing back because you are under assault may make you feel better, but it will not help in your recovery.
8. Telling a lie (of any sort). Giving your mate good reason to feel safe is one of your goals. Telling a lie only reinforces the belief that your mate cannot trust you. As difficult as it may seem, tell the truth. In the long run, your mate will at least know that you’re being real with them even if your mate doesn’t like what you’re telling them. Any lie you tell, even if small and inconsequential, will tell your mate that you still cannot be trusted.
9. Failure to understand and empathize with what your spouse is feeling. A cheating spouse may not understand the full extent of how his infidelity has traumatized his betrayed spouse. The Betrayed may be totally unaware that her Wayward Spouse is struggling with deep-seated feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment now that his affair has been exposed. Both of you need to empathize with each other’s feeling, and understand how those feelings affect the healing process. The pain of the revelation of a betrayal is disorienting to both partners. Both the husband and wife will struggle with how to cope with the pain resulting from the event.
Sometimes it can be frustrating since frequently the hurt spouse takes longer to move past the initial trauma than the unfaithful spouse. You must be patient and understand this if you want to reconcile.
In these situations, the Betrayed Spouse wants to continue to understand what has happened and wants to continue to talk about it; the Wayward Spouse will often interpret that as an attempt at punishment. This may cause the Wayward Spouse to quit trying to support the other’s recovery.
At some point, it may be very tempting to tell your mate to “just get over it.” This will come out of exasperation and frustration.
And I agree, the agenda of some Betrayed Spouses is purely punishment/justice and not forgiveness. And if that’s the case, your marriage is toast anyway.
BUT, it may seem like a good idea to just yell “GET OVER IT ALREADY!” in terms so that you can move on, but if the initial period of recovery doesn’t run its course, it can result in future problems. If your mate represses her/his feelings and doesn’t finish processing what has happened, then the feelings will begin to surface again, maybe years later. In reality, you are far better off to support your mate’s recovery at the time of the betrayal rather than living five years with a mate who is hurting and who will eventually blow up.
10. Not being consistent in your recovery plan. After a betrayal, there is an obvious problem with trust. To re-establish trust, an unfaithful spouse has to be consistent in what he or she says and does. It may seem easy for you to think an inconsistency is no big deal because you know your heart’s condition and your intent, but your mate does not. The only thing a hurt spouse can rebuild on are your behaviors. If you are consistent and do what you say, then over time your mate can begin to trust again. But if you fail to follow through with what you say, it will only serve to reinforce your mate’s distrust. It is imperative that you say what you mean and mean what you say.
Don’t make the mistake of telling your mate what you think she/he wants to hear only to fail to follow through. You will be far better off if you’re realistic, and then do what you say even if what you say (and then do) is not as grand as you or your mate had hoped.
11. Not keeping agreements you make with your mate. This is much the same as the above item. If you tell your spouse you will not eat lunch with another woman, then don’t go out to eat with another woman (or man if that’s where your temptations lie). If you tell your spouse that you’ll go to counseling together, then go to counseling together. If you agree to be home at 6:00, then make sure you’re home by 6:00. If you agree to go to therapy, then go. Failure to keep these types of agreements will cast doubt on your integrity and make it difficult for your mate to trust.
If you say that you will do something then DO IT! Every time that you say that you will do something, and you do it, it builds a tiny bit of trust in you. On the other hand, every time that you don’t do what you say, it will take a bit of trust away. You might not always be able to do what you had promised, so tell your spouse. And whatever you do, don’t have any secrets, you can have your own private thoughts but secrets (apart from what you got them for Christmas & Birthdays) have a nasty way of coming out. Remember also that if you are trying to keep something secret then your body language will give you away. Anyway, if you are committed to your spouse and your marriage, why would you need secrets.
12. Demanding your mate forgive you. As a general rule, never tell someone to forgive you. You can ask, but don’t tell. Forgiveness is a process your mate will have to work through. In many ways, it has little to do with you; it’s a gift your mate has to give herself/himself. Failure to forgive would result in your mate remaining a victim.
It’s far better to tell your mate that you want her/him to be able to forgive you and ask if there is anything you can do to help your mate heal and forgive. Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Forgiveness precedes healing. You will never reconcile until they forgive you. Help them to do so, although I realize some don’t want to or because of their personality are unable to. But you can be part of the solution. At least try!
13. Not talking to your mate. There is more than one way to hurt your mate and being passive aggressive is certainly one of them. It’s not uncommon for the unfaithful spouse to be angry about what has happened and how the hurt spouse has responded as a result of the pain. Since it may feel inappropriate for the unfaithful spouse to be upset, and clearly they have no right to be verbally aggressive, some unfaithful spouses choose to hurt their mate by not talking. Both aggression and passive aggression are intended to hurt your mate. Both reveal an absence of love. Give your mate the gift of speech in order to help your mate to heal.
Do you know why you cheated? Is it a habit with you or is it a stupid mistake that you will never repeat again. The fact that you had an affair screams out there are problems in you marriage, they might be clearly visible, or they might be less apparent. Try and identify what these problems are and try to think of a way to deal with them.
Before you speak to your spouse you need a good picture of the state of your marriage, and an understanding of why you cheated. It not only shows that you’ve taken the time to work things through, but it also shows that you are committed to you marriage.
You need to speak to your spouse. Communication is everything in recovery. Open, honest, candid, with a spirit of kindness and forgiveness on the part of both of you. It is frequently the lack of communication for why your marriage went so far off track in the first place. This is the time to establish new, consistent and better lines of communication. Do not shut them down.
14. Keeping in any contact with the OM/OW. You have to cease all contact with your AP, and it would be good if your spouse is able to hear you cut all contact. You have zero chance of reconciling your marriage if you keep the ties with the OM/OW alive on any level. Block them on your phone and on Facebook. Dump all their old emails. Change your email address. Maybe your phone number. Dump their old pictures. You are like an addict, and you must go cold turkey.
That being said, most Betrayed Spouses will demand that you cut contact — in order to live a transparent and honest life, and to not lie any longer to your spouse, you must agree to this demand. And AGGRESSIVELY followup on your promise– accepting the OM/OW’s texts or emails without replying is not No Contact. See above. Take aggressive steps to block them and remove all evidence of them from you life, as much as possible. If the OM/OW contacts you after you’ve cut things off, TELL your spouse immediately. It will demonstrate to them that you are serious about both being honest with them and about cutting things off with your affair partner.
15. Not totally committing to reconciliation and not making your Betrayed Spouse the number 1 priority in your life. Successfully rebuilding a marriage in the aftermath of an affair requires total commitment from both parties involved. If one spouse is working hard to save the marriage, but the other spouse is just going through the motions, or has secretly made up his or her mind to leave, it’s impossible for a reconciliation to take place. Saving a marriage is hard work, and both of you must be totally committed to the task. If you work at it, you can build a marriage even stronger than you had before. But you need to be sure that reconciling is what you really want to do. Some of you may still be on the fence. I get that. But at some point, you have to truly make a choice — fully commit yourself to your spouse and recovery, or let them go. It’s very simple. Don’t try and keep your options open!
Treat your partner as if they are the very center of your world. It is of monumental importance that you focus on this IMMEDIATELY following the incident, injury, lie or betrayal. The first days, weeks, months are a critical time in the recovery of your relationship; dedicate yourself to it. Being betrayed will make your partner feel emotions they may have never experienced before and most likely, decidedly less than “special.” Regardless of your reasons or given situation, your partner will question if you truly love them, which is a difficult thing for them to face after years of thinking they were the most important person in your life.
Giving your partner your full attention during this time will help them to regain the feelings of importance in your life, and will go a long way towards convincing them that you are unlikely to hurt or betray them again. It is also important to show and tell to other people how much you care or love your partner, this will help your partner to overcome all the humiliation that may have been caused but will also more than likely make you feel a little better about yourself.
Remember that the days and weeks immediately following the discovery of the affair are of vital importance, and your actions during this time will greatly determine the speed of your recovery. If your spouse feels supported, loved, respected, and safe discussing his/her feelings during this time, your chances of recovery will be greatly improved. If, on the other hand, your spouse feels alone, ignored, and in the dark, it will be much more difficult to reestablish their trust later.
Make time to court your spouse again. In your affair, you probably did those little things you used to do for your spouse for the other person. Give flowers, dedicate meaningful songs, small notes or gifts that are out of the blue, saying those things you love about them. Your spouse is going to wonder why you were so romantic and open with the person in the affair but you lost that with them. If you continue to neglect them in this area then they will always feel as though they are not special enough to receive them yet the other person was. Your spouse will not feel as though you love them more than the other person you were willing to do these things for. They more than likely will not ask for these things because they want to know they are coming from the heart. Your spouse wants to see you decide they are worth that extra step/thought or action. If they were to suggest these things, they will never feel they are truly done from the heart and with meaning because they had to tell you to do them. Not that you wanted to do them on your own. This will be extremely hurtful if you did do them for the other person.
16. Not being available. While emotional availability in the days, weeks, and even months following the discovery of a betrayal is of the utmost importance, keep in mind that you can only be emotionally available when you’re there in person. Understand that, left alone, your partner’s thoughts will begin to eat away at them – they will have questions you are not there to answer, torment themselves with ideas you cannot dispel, and invent suspicions your absence will only worsen.
Paranoia is only natural during this time; in fact, it can hardly be called paranoia, as they are right to mistrust you; you have betrayed them deeply. Being around to answer their questions and soothe their thoughts will keep them from building up and causing future explosions down the road. If it is possible, this may be a good time to take some time away from your normal “alone” activities to spend with your partner. If you can’t be with them physically, keep your phone on whenever possible to answer their calls, and allow them as much access to you as they need. Depending on your partner’s temperament, you may need to respect their desire for time alone, but you need to keep yourself available to them.
17. Not living your life transparently. Your life MUST be an open book. You no longer have the luxury of coming and going as you please. Once you have abused your partners trust, it takes a while and a whole lot of effort to get it back. Therefore, if you will be late coming home from work, or have had a change in plans, inform your partner. Every time you leave the house your partner is now wondering if you are going where you say you are going which wil cause them a great deal of anxiety. The best way to ease their insecurities is to let them know what you’re doing and check in throughout the day. Invite your partner places you usually go alone like to the gym or out with friends.
Do everything you can to let your partner know that you have NOTHING to hide.
That being said, and I’ve written about it, this doesn’t mean you no longer have the basic human and adult right to privacy of your thoughts. You do. And I think the demand about email and phone passwords is fool’s gold — it provides only a fake reassurance and is frankly kinda humiliating. You will be on a shorter leash, but don’t be a fool and let yourself be treated like a child. But I think while still maintaining at least SOME human dignity, you need to prove that you are no longer misbehaving and living an honest, authentic, and transparent life. It will go a long way to encouraging your spouse to forgive you.
In my other blogs, I urge Betrayed Spouses to pursue these measures wisely and prudently. If you make too many demands in this area, you will build resentment in your Wayward and derail reconciliation. Demanding passwords. Putting on secret electronic surveillance of them. Demanding they show you their phone (especially in front of other people. I’ve seen it!) — these are humiliating and counter-productive measures. Use them wisely or not at all.
18. Not choosing your battles wisely. Keep in mind that now is not necessarily the time to pick fights over certain topics. You are in a minefield and you have to be careful about fighting back too much, especially initially. Your partner is feeling betrayed and frightened; it is only natural for them in this state to project those fears onto situations that bear (in their mind) any resemblance to past events of hurt and betrayal. You have shaken their feelings of security in the relationship and in the world, and it is openness and understanding that will gain this back, not combativeness and arguments.
Rather than angrily asserting your rights, you will do much better to gain their trust by assuring them of their importance to you and soothing their bruised ego and wounded heart with compliments and understanding.
That being said, as with most things, you don’t have to tolerate these things indefinitely. They can become an impediment to reconciliation. But for a while, until you get on more calm footing, beware of fighting back too much. This goes with my point about not being too defensive.
19. Not using this opportunity to create a new relationship with your partner and with yourself. You have to start over as it was in the beginning of your relationship. How were you to her/him when you first was interested in dating? If you stay up talking and being together a lot then do so. She/he will always say, If you could stay up and do all the things with the person you cheated on me with than you can do the same with me. Be very attentive. Be open to opportunities to deepen honesty, to live out your values and ideals in public and private, and to bring each other closer together. Your partner may now view you as a stranger and your relationship as broken, and they’re right to think so. You may even feel like a stranger to yourself as you reflect on your choices to engage in behaviors that you are not proud of, and your reliance upon deception and secrecy to hide them. Fight to REALLY live as the partner and the human being that you want to be.
The key is to forge a new relationship in as many ways as possible. Not only will this approach help you and your spouse address the betrayal (and other issues as well), many couples who succeed in this effort frequently describe their relationship afterward as more fulfilling and joyful than at any time in their lives. Finding new places to spend time and share activities together can help this. Make sure that he or she and everyone around you (i.e.family, friends, children) can see that your partner means the world to you and is NOW being put first in your life.
20. Not being grateful. Your spouse is deciding to remain with you after your betrayal. No matter how angry, petty, or unpredictable they get, they have shown a great love for you and, in many cases, a great strength of character in choosing to try to trust you again. Give this decision, and your partner, the deserved respect and gratitude. Many betrayed spouses don’t have the character and maturity and true love to forgive someone. Many are often too invested in being the victim. Yours isn’t. Appreciate it. Acknowledge it. SAY it. WRITE IT to him/her. See it as the “gift” it is. Don’t fumble it.
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