Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Witness to the Pain of Infidelity

There's much debate raging on another site regarding a post by Wendy Strgar of Good Clean Love, whom I've quoted here before. Wendy offers up much wisdom in her approach to creating solid happy relationships but, from what I know and from what she's revealed, she's never experienced a spouse's sexual betrayal.
As a result, as many commenters have pointed out, her post seems somewhat cavalier. As if getting over betrayal is simply a matter of perspective, of viewing the infidelity through a different lens. She calls an affair a "wake-up call". Yet most of us who've experienced it see it less as a wake-up call than repeated kicks to the head by someone wearing steel-toe boots.
And the commenters clearly do, too.
It's painfully clear which of those commenting are still raw from the incredible sting of betrayal. You can almost hear their wavering voices, angry at what they deem a thoughtless post that dismisses their pain and desperate for someone to acknowledge it.
And having someone acknowledge that pain is, I believe, a critical part of healing.
Like any tragedy in life, we need a witness. Someone who nods their head and agrees with us that, indeed, it happened. And it was terrible. But who also stands as a reminder that from tragedy can come triumph. That tragedy can, sometimes, be a wake-up call. Albeit an excruciating one.
The evolution of tragedy to triumph can only occur if we're willing to loosen our grip on the pain. To no longer hold on to it like a security blanket but to let it go and open ourselves to what comes next. It's a bizarre bit of human nature that we'll often hold on to negative emotion that's familiar than risk another emotion that's not. Healing can feel absolutely out of control. It's not a straight trajectory but rather a slow spiral upwards with occasional slips back. And it can be terrifying.
I've been aware lately that I'm holding my husband's betrayal in front of me like a shield. And behind that is a fear that if I let go of it (which feels uncomfortably like letting him "off the hook"), it'll happen again. As a result, I feel the need to constantly keep it front of mind because then I can control it. Well...guess again, Elle. That control is a total illusion. And it's keeping me locked in a position of defining myself by the tragedy not the triumph.
I'm ready to let go of it. While I refuse to acknowledge that it's ever the cheated-upon spouse's responsibility to keep the other faithful, I'm taking responsibility for my own healing. A healing that's hampered by holding on to the betrayal like a fun-house mirror, constantly reflecting back at my husband what a bastard he was and how lucky he is that I haven't tossed his sorry ass on the streets. Though I haven't said those exact words (at least, not in a long while), the sentiment is there, clear to both of us.
Tragedy to triumph. That's where we headed. And with each of us acknowledging the others' pain and giving all of us the freedom to move forward.

While this site, I believe, can play a role in each of us feeling less alone, I'm increasingly aware that we also need flesh-and-blood people in our lives to witness our pain. Well-intentioned friends who respond with hard-nosed advice ("kick him out" or "it's time to get over it") are generally not too helpful. Try and find someone – anyone – who can witness your pain: therapist, friend, pastor, support group, spouse. And please post your story here. It can help you loosen your grasp on the pain to get it out and onto paper.


  1. I'm really, really, really struggling with the letting him "off the hook" part of this right now. But, seriously, anything less than divorce kind of is letting him off the hook, right? It sure feels that way to me.

    While I was home washing his dirty laundry, cleaning his house, caring for his children, buying his food and then cooking it for him, he was off having mad, crazy, hot, forbidden sex at lunch with someone else.

    He got to do THAT and now we are suppose to do some therapy and get our marriage to a place where it's never been better??? I get that life isn't fair but seriously???

    I've read all the books that claim it is possible to get to a better place in your marriage and in the logical, unemotional part of my brain, I get it. I just don't get HOW my heart is ever going to get to that place.

    I really don't know how someone can ever get over this kind of hurt. Am I just not far enough out? I know myself and I just question whether I have it in me. The child in me is wailing "but that's not fair."

  2. That used to bother me more than it does now. Not sure if that's healing...or exhaustion. :)
    It's not fair. And no amount of therapy/healing will make it fair. I remind myself that much of life is not fair: cancer, losing a child, getting fired when you're doing a great job, idiots being voted into public office... Bad things happen to good people all the time. The difference with this, I guess, is that we're expected to forgive the very person who broke our hearts.
    The alternative, of course, is to nurture a grudge for the rest of our lives. Which sounds a whole lot like hell to me.
    Letting it go isn't something that magically happens, I think, so much as it's a daily choice that eventually works its way into our way of being.
    Evening the score – you having forbidden sex at lunchtime with someone else – doesn't strike me as truly evening the score. In my case, I suspect it would leave me feeling hollow and disgusted with myself...rather than sighing with relief that we've both hurt each other equally and can get on with life.
    There's no way out of this that doesn't involve us taking the high road and accepting something most of us swore we'd never accept. Even divorce won't change the fact that we were hurt. And divorce as punishment, rather than out of a sincere desire to part ways in order to live a more fulfilling life, doesn't strike me as much of a solution either.
    I'm pretty much taking it day by day, a philosophy that also serves me well with my children, in general. Today I want to be here. Whether or not that will change, who knows. I know I feel better now than I did last year...and the year before that...etc.
    And I know that, for all the gratification of sex, my husband never felt worse about himself than when he was cheating. I've come to believe that's "punishment" enough. At least...most of the time.

  3. That part about getting even by having my own forbidden sex at lunch kind of made me laugh. I doubt that would work for me either. It just wouldn't have the same impact because the whole point would be for your spouse to know you'd done it.

    It's just all so . . . the options, I mean, are so unpalatable.

    Since this happened I've felt like a wild animal that's been caged. I have this panicked feeling that I must escape and yet every direction I turn to run sits a chain link fence that is close up and impermeable. When I'm overcome by the urge to flee, I'll think to myself 'I'll just turn this way and run for my life' but when I turn -- BAM! -- I run straight into the damn fence again.

  4. How far past D-Day are you, Pippi? I'm curious because I remember that "caged animal" feeling. It was like I was panicked but everywhere I looked just seemed as unsafe. And the feeling of wanting to flee is so familiar to me. I still fantasize occasionally about simply walking out of my life...
    A week ago, after a day of cleaning up/picking up after everyone else, I was absorbed in my fantasy of living in a little cottage by the water –everything tidy and clean and orderly and quiet. I walked into the bathroom where my son was in the tub: "You're a great mom," he said to me, completely unprovoked. I had to laugh. It's like that kid can read my mind...and reminds me again and again what I would lose. :)

  5. I'm eight months out. I think I get that feeling mostly on days when I just don't think I'm strong enough to get through this. I've never had anything rock my world to it's core the way this has. But, in my heart I know I will survive it. I'm very strong -- that's why I chose the alias Pippi (as in Longstocking) -- she was very strong literally and could lift a horse. Plus, in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books author Steig Larrson based Lisabeth Salander on a grown-up version of Pippi. Lisbeth could kick some serious ass and was good with computers. Both Pippi and Lisbeth genuinely do not care what anyone thinks of them. On my best days, I've got this awesome Pippi/Lisbeth combo thing going where I'm strong inside and out and I could care less about what anyone thinks of me or my messed up life.

    ps -- I think your kid sounds like a great son. How sweet and mature to acknowledge and appreciate you.

  6. Pippi,

    You SOUND seriously kickass. I'd NEVER sleep with your husband because you'd annihilate me. :)
    I know it seems like a long time since you found out but 8 months really isn't. At eight months out, I'm not even sure I was showering regularly and forming complete sentences. I was wildly vascillating between considering smothering my husband in his sleep (seriously!), killing myself to rid the world of my misery, and going all Zen-buddha on everyone with my "let's forgive" stuff. I was a MESS!
    And re. my son: Thank-you. He is, honestly, like oxygen sometimes. He's hilarious and sensitive and smart and incredibly sweet. My daughters are too but life with girls is...complicated.
    Hang in there. Whatever you do, I've no doubt you'll ultimately be absolutely fine.



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