Okay, so my title sounds like some sort of B-movie.
But just glance at the covers of tabloid magazines or newspapers for a quick education in how our culture views infidelity. "Cheater!" they scream. Or "It's over!" Or the straightforward "Betrayed!"
The betrayed wives are divided into two categories. Those women who dump the cheater? Brave. Strong. Those who forgive? Delusional. Wimpy.
What's particularly surprising, however, is that much of this scorn heaped on betrayed wives comes from...betrayed wives.
Forgiving a cheater and rebuilding a marriage seems a disappointment to our take-the-gloves-off culture. We want revenge. We want retribution. After all, the adage goes, "once a cheater..."
No matter that evidence doesn't back this cliché up. No matter that the majority (80% says a recent study) of marriages will experience infidelity. No matter that of those who divorce following infidelity, more than three-quarters later regretted it.
Our culture's judgement of infidelity – and those of us navigating it – is why so many of us choose silence even as we're experiencing the worst pain of our lives. It's why we hesitate to trust even our closest friends to support us.
It's why we find comfort in anonymous blogs where we can share our story without fear.
Betrayal creates deep wounds and triggers strong emotions. It's confusing to learn that the one person you trusted most has betrayed you. My immediate reaction upon learning about my husband's infidelity was to wander my house, wringing my hands and asking, out loud to myself, "what am I going to do?"
And it's perhaps that question that's central to this issue of judgement. What was I going to do? Sure I'd always said that cheating was a deal-breaker. But that was when it was a hypothetical. Things are always clear when they're hypothetical.
But now I had to figure out what, among my various options, I was going to do. And of course, I – like all of you – was making that choice with absolutely no understanding of infidelity and without a crystal ball.
It's into that uncertainty about our future, our deep pain at the betrayal and our recognition that other people are impacted by our choice (something our husbands neglected to note) that others cast their judgement.
"Well, I could never do what you're doing," one friend told me, just weeks after my D-Day. Within that comment was her deeper point that, really, I was a bit of an idiot. She'd left own marriage a few years earlier because of her then-husband's infidelity and she had no room for any alternative but to leave. I was stung by her dismissal of my choice. I struck her off my confidantes list, which was already pretty short.
And yet, a few years later, after this friend had been in a happy long-term relationship with another man, she wistfully told me that she thinks she and her ex could have actually made it work. But...who knows? My friend is now happily remarried. She made her choice.
And that's my point: We each get to make our choice. It's an excruciating one. Some of us will regret our choice to stay at which point we're allowed to change our minds. Some will regret our choice to leave at which point we're generally stuck with the consequences. Life isn't an exact science.
What we can do, however, is support each other in whatever choice we make. We can encourage each other to get as much information as we can and then make the best choice you can under the circumstances at the time. And we can then acknowledge that your choice doesn't make mine any less valid.
To those of us who've experienced that judgement, especially from other betrayed wives? Recognize that another's inability to tolerate your different choice speaks to her deep fear that she's making a mistake. We are frightened by those whose actions call into mind that there is another possibility. Seeing the world in black and white makes moralistic judgement so much easier...but it makes the world much less beautiful.
See her judgement as evidence of her own deep pain. And offer her compassion.