Thursday, April 12, 2012

Infidelity is Like Amnesia

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.

11 comments:

  1. Amnesia aka , rewriting history..... a very interesting thing. I feel my husband has used it in a myriad of ways. Basically it comes down to self preservation. I feel that my husband has a difficult time looking at what he did and if he truly saw all the implications and hurt he caused...truly saw it...that he would have a nervous breakdown and never recover.
    So, it is easier to convince himself that he somehow deserved the affair. There was a lot or rewritten history on his part. Unfortunately, I looked at it at first like it was unfair of me to define how he saw our relationship.....haha how co-dependent is that!!!!!
    Then I saw what he was doing , but i also saw why. The why helped me more to understand what was happening and reading ( a lot) helped me understand the anatomy of an affair.
    As for the fog.....it is slowly lifting....thank goodness!

    ~~ S

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  2. Wow...did this post ever speak to me today. I was actually thinking right before I checked your site today: "This all seems like a bad dream"...and that it never really happened. While I know IT did HAPPEN, sometimes I feel like I've stuffed it down so much to deal with life, I'm not truely dealing with it.

    Yes, Dday was 9 months ago. Yes, my husband is different now. No, I'll never forget it. Yes, the OW finally is leaving us alone. No, I don't think my husband has really, deeply understood why he stepped off the cliff.

    They say it's a long process to heal, but sometimes I feel like I'm healing too fast. How do you know you're not in denial?

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    1. I know nine months seems like a lifetime (just ask a pregnant woman!!) but in terms of healing from betrayal, this is still so raw and new.
      That said, some people – their emotional makeup, the circumstances of the affair – are just better able to put pain behind them. I have to examine it from every angle in order to feel "done" with it and move on. I think, for your own sake, just be sure you're not minimizing your own pain in order to get on with things (emotions have a way of catching up to us or coming out when we least expect them if they're left undealt with) or denying the extent of the betrayal. Keep in mind, too, that healing is not a straight trajectory. Sometimes you'll feel as if it's all well and truly behind you...then something will happen and it will trigger all that pain again. The good news is that you'll be better equipped to recognize when you've been triggered by the past rather than what's currently happening...and can remind yourself how to deal with it.

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  3. I totally agree with you! I don't think my husband actually realised the depth of problem until he had to say things out loud. It was sad to see the dawning disgust in his own face :-(

    But even then, I could tell he was "editing" things the more his porn addiction journey unravelled. To this day, I am still don't know if he can face what his done and the impact its had on me. He knows I hurt - he doesn't know I ma broken...

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    1. I know that acknowledging the pain I've experience creates such incredible shame in my husband that he'll do almost anything to avoid it. It feels like survival for him. And yet, I need little more than his acknowledgement. And the irony is, the more he simply confirms that he hurt me and reassures me he won't do it again, the more quickly I can let it go.
      And though you may feel broken, you are still whole...and will feel so again.

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  4. How true! I was in constant amazement at how my husband rewrote history over and over.It was confusing and frustrating.
    I went from someone who cared nothing for him to his soul mate in a few months!

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    1. Kathy,
      A few years ago, I posted a list of the craziest things our spouses (or ex-spouses) had said when they were in the fog. You can find it here:
      http://betrayedwivesclub.blogspot.com/2011/02/funny-friday-another-round-of-stupidest.html

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  5. The rewriting of marital history by wayward spouses is rather incredible. And it does indeed seem to be a matter of survival for them to avoid the discrepancies between fact and fiction. To deal with their cognitive dissonance- who they believe they are and what they are doing. Right after discovery, he wanted to talk about nothing but the problems with our marriage. and he insisted that he had broached the topic and gotten nowhere with me, all before beginning his affair. Well, I could date the single strange discussion to the middle of the affair. I remembered it so clearly because it was odd how upset he got and what he brought up- events a few months past. I didn't understand but now I do. Now that we are almost 4 months out, his fog is finally lifting, and it is crushing him to realize what he has done to me and our marriage. And almost did to our children. In counseling, he has been examining the reasons for his affair, and finding that all the ones he had- all his justifications- don't survive rational scrutiny. I wonder if he will ever get to the why. He keeps insisting that he always loved me. Who knows. Thanks for your blog.

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    1. It is incredible. Byron Katie who has written and speaks on what she calls "The Work" proposes that all our pain comes from the stories we tell ourselves. She maintains that the first question we need to ask ourselves is "Is it true?" And she tells the story of a man she helped who was in jail for killing his wife. He kept insisting that she hated him and was horrible to him...and she kept asking him "Is it true?" And he finally acknowledged that it was his hate of himself that made him see himself as hateful through other people's eyes. It was inconceivable to him that she could love him.
      As much as it sucked being betrayed...I still maintain that I'd rather be on this side of the betrayal than the other.
      Thanks for posting.
      Elle

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  6. Hi Elle, I would love to chat with you more about your experiences. I think we have a lot in common

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    1. It's amazing how so many of us from so many different walks of life share this common experience -- and how similar our stories are. Any time you want to share your story, please feel free. It can often help you clear your own thoughts...and give strength to others.
      Elle

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