Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Define "Deal-Breaker"...and What to Do If He Does

I'm sure just about every one of us considered an affair a "deal-breaker". I even had a conversation with my husband when I was pregnant with my first child. I couldn't have been more clear:
Me: Having a baby is a big deal. We owe it to her to keep our marriage strong. We'll probably be tempted - maybe you already have – but let's promise each other we won't give in. And that we'll get help for our marriage if we find ourselves attracted to someone else. If our marriage can't be saved, then at least we won't have adultery to deal with.
Him: H'mmmm. [Which I interpreted as "Of course, darling! I would NEVER do that. And NEVER will.]
And, with that, I thought the matter was taken care of.
Oh, how wrong I was.

Fast forward roughly a decade and I was forced to eat my words. Well, not forced, actually. I willingly decided to sit down, pick up a knife and fork, and swallow then, word by excruciating word. And with that, I vowed that if he ever, EVER cheated on me again, it was a deal-breaker. "And I mean it this time!!!" I insisted.
And I do.
To be honest, however, if he had cheated on me again shortly after D-Day, I don't know that I would have been able to stick with my vow. Not because I didn't mean it. But simply because I was having trouble breathing. The idea of packing my bags, loading up three kids and finding somewhere to go was more than I could manage.
Which is why I think it's so important to have a plan in place – a sort of auto-pilot that you can turn to when your brain is mush and your heart is in pieces.
All the threats in the world mean nothing if you can't enforce with them consequences. So...before you start throwing those threats around, take some time to work out some meaningful boundaries and consequences.
For example, one BWC member, whose husband is a sex addict, made attending his 12-step meetings part of her non-negotiables when she opted to give him a second chance. If he doesn't attend regularly, any and all intimacy between the two of them comes to a grinding (no pun intended) stop. He moves to the guest room (or she will, if he refuses) and, after a certain period of time if he hasn't resumed his meetings, she begins the separation process. At that point, she figures, it's clear he's unwilling to hold up his end of the she has no choice but to honor her own boundaries (that he attend meetings that support his recovery) and keep herself safe.
Sure, these guys can lie. They've done it before. But we're wiser now. We know what to look out for. If, at any time, we get that uneasy feeling in our gut, we enact our new mantra: trust, but verify. He says he was late at the office? Who else was there that you can check with? Will he show you his computer with the work he was doing? Why not install a keylogger on the computer to check any Web sites, e-mails, etc.? Check his cell phone so you can see all activity. Etc. Etc.
And have your pre-determined boundaries and consequences in place.
You, for example, find out he had contact with the OW? Well, what does that mean to you? What consequences are in place?: he moves to the couch? He moves out? You contact his family? You contact her family? Ensure that they're enforceable...and that they don't create additional problems for you. And ensure that you stick with them. As Barbara Coloroso, parenting guru, is forever reminding us, it isn't the severity of the consequence, it's the inevitability. You need to stick to boundaries/consequences that you will enforce. Not to punish him but to protect yourself.
And if you can state unequivocally that certain behaviour is a deal-breaker, then that's exactly what it is.


  1. Early on after DDay, I was big on ultimatums. If you don't call OW right now and tell her it's need to get out. Since you told my dad about the A, I want you to call your sisters and tell them, too...or get out. Help me get back the money you gave OW or I'll call her dad and have him to do it and then...of can get out.
    Lots of threats. None of them idle.
    I wanted him out, but it was only because I knew that if I said our marriage was over that would be the thing that hurt him the most. Consequences be damned!
    The old me...fists up or grab a weapon. I'm gonna be sure you hurt more than me. Cutting off my nose to spite my face, I'm really prone to that.
    I have gained a bit of self-control and thoughtfulness before I react. I'm learning to step back and breath before I throw down these days. I want my marriage to heal. That's the right choice. The smart choice. Do I still have days when causing WH to grimace in pain brings me a warped kind of joy? Hate to admit it, but yes. Tiny steps.
    Hope & Hugs, Shawn

    1. Yes, I think many of us have been there. In fact, I think that's one of the things I did wrong even BEFORE I knew of my husband's infidelity. I was forever threatening to leave or suggesting that we should break up. In my own defence, it was often the only thing that actually got his attention. Wanting to talk about division of labor, our sex life, the kids just made him tune out. I'd think we'd reached agreement or compromise...but nothing ever changed. But if I suggested I was ready to leave...then he was suddenly ready to really listen. Clearly we had horrible communication in our marriage but it's very hard to have good communication with someone who simply won't listen (a skill he'd picked up in childhood with an emotionally abusive mother).
      That said, I wished I'd know then what I know now. I wish I'd had clearer boundaries and the strength to enforce my consequences when they're broken. I wish a lot of things.
      However, your advice to "step back and breathe" is incredibly wise and I think the world would do well to take it.



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