I overheard an interview on the radio with Anne Enright, the Book-winning author whose most recent book The Forgotten Waltz details an affair by a wife. She made some interesting observations, noting that her character manages to stay in denial about the impact her sexual affair has on her family...until she recognizes that she's severed emotional ties with her husband. At that instant, she realizes the deep impact of her infidelity. She does not, however, regret it.
Infidelity, as so many of us who've tried to piece together details from the outside know, seems to cause amnesia. And that's not entirely a ruse. Enright's character Gail notes that she can't be much bothered with chronology or details as she recounts her story. Why not? An most adulterers would answer if they were capable of self-reflection, it's the details that reveal the depth of their deceit and the tears in their moral fabric. To truly examine the trajectory of an affair, it would likely become clear that the attraction to someone outside the marriage preceded the vilification of the betrayed spouse. In other words, in order to feel better about the affair, the unfaithful spouse rewrites his story with him as victim.
I don't mean to sound all judgemental and nasty (though I suspect that's how I'm sounding) because I wouldn't still be in my marriage if I didn't believe that basically decent people can do cruel, heartbreaking things...and then never do them again.
It's just that part of the fog of adultery is an ability to convince yourself that no-one is really getting hurt. Or that if they are, they kinda sorta deserve it. It's an ability to convince yourself that your wife's exasperated sigh the evening before meant that she thinks you're an idiot who always lets her down. Or that all you are to your family is a paycheque. Your affair partner, however...well, they truly see how wonderful you are. And down the garden path you go.
There seems little we betrayed spouses can do to fight this amnesia, either before or after D-Day. We can insist on details, though don't expect them to be accurate. We can remind our husband that it was in fact they who pulled away from us, not the other way around. Generally the best thing we can do is sit in our own pain, tend to our own wounds...and, if we're so inclined, wait for them to emerge – remorseful, clear-headed (or at least clearer headed) and willing to be honest about the role they assumed in their adultery.