Monday, May 28, 2012

Who's to Blame for an Affair?

My friend Jamie has been re-reading her old journals. They document her days as she dealt with her husband's affair with his assistant (Lord, these men are predictable!). And as she goes through the pages, she's struck by how desperately she wanted to understand her role in his affair. What had she done? What should she have done differently? What hadn't she done that she should have? And so on.
It's a stage many of us go through. We seem to think that if we created the problem, we can create the solution and – voila – all will be as it was.
And yet there was nothing Jamie could have done. Sure the marriage had its issues – primarily, Jamie realizes now, that she allowed her husband to behave like a child and then, when she had babies, wanted him to behave like a grown-up. But, honestly, is that an excuse for a man to have an affair?
Even as she exited the marriage and began a relationship with the man who is now her husband she was dodging thinly veiled accusations from others along the lines of "what did YOU do to contribute to the breakdown of the marriage." For a while, Jamie honestly tried to answer that question. What HAD she done to drive her husband into the arms of another woman. At a certain point, though, when her self-esteem was back on solid ground, she thought, "Forget that! I did everything I could to be a good wife and mother in the face of a husband who was barely around." In other words, she admits that their marriage was under stress but that HE was the one primarily creating it. It's impossible to have a marriage in which one of the partners is rewriting reality to suit a storyline that makes cheating seem like a viable response. It's common enough to become cliché: "My wife doesn't understand me." "My wife doesn't have the same sex drive as I. " "My wife nags me." It's, of course, one side of a story that always has at least one other side.
It's a fine balance between acknowledging responsibility for the role we play in a struggling marriage...and accepting responsibility for our spouse's choice to have an affair. The former is important simply for our emotional growth and understanding of ourselves. The latter inhibits our spouse's growth by letting them off the hook for their own aberrant behavior.
These days, as Jamie reads her journal, she's reminded of how much pain she was in and how badly she wanted to understand her husband's choice. But she can also see so much more clearly that it was exactly that – his choice.


  1. Of course it was him that decided to run away and get naked with another woman. That would never be my fault, although there was a time when I wondered and doubted myself. I think thats normal. But then we learn it was all their choice. Someone who has a healthy sense of wellbeing turns to their partner for help and support and love in hard times. So often I feel like those who cheat can't face emotional intimacy amd so they run to someone who can cater to their infantile needs. Prostitutes, assistants, "best" friends and random hookups...little intimacy is required here. These are shallowly gratifying relationships. And because they are afraid, or dont know how our simply unaware they miss out on one of lifes greatest gifts...emotional depth and connection with another human being.

    When I think of this, I think of my own husband. The addiction part of him has stolen his ability to interact deeply with another human. He has lots of acquainces, no lasting friends, little relationships with his family, he struggles to connect with his own daughter and son.

    With all that jibber-jabber being said, no way is it our fault they cheated. We can recognize our mistakes but like u said, it doesn't lead down the yellow brick road to cheaters ville.

  2. THank you so so much for this post and for your comment "scabs". I too was the perfect wife and mommy for 22 years and this was the thanks I got for all my blind trust and devotion. And now he wants another chance. I just don't know. Thank you for validating my feelings today. I needed it.

  3. It's so typical of the woman to feel that she is to blame, and our culture has reinforced this belief. "If you had been a better wife, lover, friend, whatever he wouldn't have strayed." This is complete BS. I accept that we did not have the perfect marriage and I was not the perfect wife. My husband claimed that he did try to send out subtle signals that he wasn't happy but even my 20 year old daughter said to him "I don't have a lot of experience but it seems to me that this isn't something you shouldn't be subtle about." Really to me this was just his way to calm his guilt. The , I tried but she didn't want to change, act. Another way that it was my fault.
    Men on the other hand seem to be raised to deflect all blame to someone else. Even though my husband would say that the affair was entirely his fault he would follow up with "But I didn't think you cared about me any more" No matter how many times I told him that that is putting the blame on me he just didn't see it. He had contructed a scenario in his mind of how things were which justified what he wanted to do and he didn't want to let go of it.
    In the end I'm with Dr Phil that no matter what is happening in a marriage there is no justification for an affair.

    1. I think that's very true – and kudos to your smart daughter for being to clear-headed and forthright! Your husband could learn a thing or two from her.
      And yes, society does implicitly and sometimes explicitly blame women for their husband's affairs.
      Dr. Phil is right. The minute someone goes outside the marriage, it completely changes everything and small, possibly surmountable issues becomes HUGE. What's more, those issues tend to take a backseat to the triage necessary in the wake of finding out. So an affair simply delays solving the problems.
      Unfortunately your husband's "but..." is all too common. My husband has moved on from the "but..." but when he was there, I tried to think of it as my husband's inability to accept the level of pain he's caused. But, in the end, it added up to weakness that I found childish. I admired him a whole lot more when he was able to simply acknowledge that what he did was painful and cruel.

  4. I get what you're saying, but for me, it would be a deal-breaker. It's not a matter of "never say never". It would just be the end. The reason I can say this with such certainty is because I know MYSELF. I would not be able to handle wondering where he really was through out the days to follow-if he is really where he says he is. I would be on edge if he were 10 minutes late from work. I would CONSTANTLY be checking the phone bill, his phone, and his emails. Not only his emails-but every single site he had ever visited on the web. I would forever hold the images in my head of him with the other woman-sharing something that he was only supposed to share with me. If we could ever get to the point of being intimate again after the affair, I would become sick to my stomach knowing that another woman was caressing and touching his skin in a way that only I am supposed to. I wouldn't be able to kiss him again, because his lips would now be tainted from kissing someone else in an intimate way. I will say this: I would be able to forgive him, but I would NEVER be able to forget. And the forgetting part is what would make it impossible for it to work for ME. I would become absolutely obsessed, and that's just not fair to me. I get what you're saying-about never really knowing what you would do until the situation arises, but I just couldn't live the rest of my marriage, the rest of my life becoming obsessed over his affair. HIS affair-he decided to break my heart and I will not suffer because of it. I refuse to stay and suffer because of HIS mistakes. I have a family member who stuck to her word about it being a deal-breaker...she shot him too...

    1. Well...I supposed shooting him is always an option. :)



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