Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why you should stop asking "why"...and instead ask "why bother"

"Men don't cheat because of who she is, they cheat because of who they're not."
~Charles J. Orlando, author of "The Problem with Women...Is Men"

We often talk on this site about the question of "why". It's generally the first word that forms in our brain when we learn of a spouse's affair. But sadly, we often answer that question with a catalogue of our own perceived failings: I've been preoccupied with the kids; I've been busy with work; I've been stressed with moving my parents into a nursing home; I'm aging; I'm fat; and blahdy blah self-flagellating blah.
It's all, of course, bullshit. So is all the stuff we tell ourselves about what she has that we don't. As my husband's therapist once said to me, "what she's got, you don't want."
No matter what your spouse tells you or what you tell yourself, he cheated because opportunity met moral failing and wound up in bed together. That's not to say that your list of "why"s aren't necessarily true. Maybe your marriage was under strain. Maybe you could have spent a bit more time at the gym. Maybe you did take your stress out on your husband. All of which are absolutely valid reasons for your husband to suggest counselling, or anger management, or even a separation. They're not valid reasons for cheating. I'm not sure there is a valid reason for cheating. 
The time will come when the two of you, should you choose to rebuild your marriage, to pore over your marriage like a couple of forensic detectives, looking for just where it went off the rails. Ideally you'll do this within the context of "where can we improve our communication so neither of us feels so alone again" rather than "this is the long list of ways in which you're a complete asshole". But sometimes that compassion and willingness to be open to your cheating husband's pain takes time.
It also takes strength, which doesn't come from beating yourself up about the myriad ways in which you somehow brought your spouse's cheating on.
Your task, post-betrayal, is to keep yourself strong. No easy task. It means extreme self-care – avoiding anyone who isn't loyal to you; it means avoiding any commitment that makes you feel more vulnerable; it means eating and sleeping; it means avoiding excess (or any!) alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping or other means of numbing your feelings. And it means stopping, at least for now, asking "why".
Your husband likely can't tell you. Not really. People who cheat aren't generally the most self-aware. They can learn self-awareness and the fallout from cheating often spurs them in that direction. Decent people who cheat are often so disgusted with themselves that they want to know how they were able to do such a thing in order to ensure they'll never do it again. But there are plenty of guys equally disgusted with themselves who simply can't admit that – it's far easier to blame something outside of themselves (your work schedule; their boss) than own up to their moral failing.
The first group generally make rebuilding a marriage as easy as it can be (which, frankly, still isn't easy); the second make it a whole lot harder and should prompt you to ask whether or not it's worth trying. Without a clear understanding of how people can use other people to avoid feeling pain or shame or loneliness or stress, there's little to prevent them from doing it again.
As Charles J. Orlando points out in the quote above, men cheat because of what's missing in them, because of who they're not. Who they're not is a guy who recognizes when he's seeking escape in an unhealthy way. Who they're not is a guy who recognizes the damage created by cheating before he does it.
Instead of asking why he cheated, the question you should be asking is why – and if – he deserves the chance to rebuild your marriage. It's the question he should be asking himself too.

22 comments:

  1. Thanks for putting this out there. This solidifies "why" we have been able to keep up the recovery. He has clearly shown a willingness to open his eyes to what has kept him from being happy in his life and why he betrayed the person he loves so deeply. All the things I have been frustrated about-especially his ADD type behavior- he is no longer afraid to look at. I am willing to look at why I behaved in unloving ways as well--partly because of frustration with his ADD behaviors. Sadly, we probably wouldn't have been willing to take a good hard look at ourselves if we hadn't hit this rock bottom. But I always knew my husband was capable of deep self reflection and insight. There were times it wasn't clear that he was ready or going to have the courage to do it, but atleast I knew he had the capacity. When he finally showed up ready to do the hard and painful work, that's when I knew it would be possible to recover.
    -MBS

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  2. WHY. I obsessed about WHY for over a year after DDay. I thought if I knew WHY I could fix it. I wish I knew then that there is no answer to WHY that makes recovery easier.
    My FWH worked very hard to understand WHY he cheated because he knew I needed to know. What we didn't understand then was he needed to know much more than I did.

    Because I hate to always focus on what we lost after DDay, today on my blog I wrote about things we gained. I think doing the work to understand WHY was something gained. We learned so much about each other during that process. We learned to communicate our needs to each other and really listen.
    It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but my marriage is better for it all.

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    1. Shawn,
      I'm sorry you've got such grief from people on your site. I'm still not sure why other people think they know what's right for us.
      But it was a great post. It's important to pay attention to that stuff. We all tell ourselves stories about our lives. We need to really ask ourselves just how true those stories are and readjust when necessary.

      Elle

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    2. Still reading and taking notes. Trying to continue to learn what I can. Yeasterday was stressful but not as much as earlier past appointments have been. I brought up the subject again and got the best answer I've received yet on why he did what he did. I really believe him. He said he had no clue he wished he did. He said there is no way in hell he would do such a thing 'again it was all about him' but he said and I quote "there's no way in hell that he would have done such a thing if he would have known he would have gotten H I V". Sorry but I'm still having problems seeing where I'm fitting into all this. I told him that if he had only ask I would have been more than willing to have done almost anything for him. 38 + years I think I've proved that. Now I have drawn very clear lines in the sand where I probably will never cross because of what he's done. At the same time there's some sort of disconnect with our marriage. He never really makes love to me. We have sex that's about it. The way he describes his in counters with his FW.'s sounds like our love life is now. I am still making him give me more than I think he wants but I'm not settling for all he's willing and seams to want from me. I have decided that I'm in titled to what I need. Sometimes I really fill like he deserves more than what two pills cures. Then I get this total panic when I think about either of us getting sick.

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  3. Still Posting (only 2nd time though) as Anonymous, this post is SO SPOT ON I could CRY. Thank you Elle, Thank you, thank you. 2 months-8 days post D-Day but who's counting? I always knew it was not ME, but never could understand WHY and I never asked Why. This is really so helpful.

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  4. Elle -

    I think you have a secret recording device in my head. It has been nine months since DDay for me and I cried so hard on Monday that I thought I would stop breathing. I am thankful that I have at least become marginally functional again. Meaning that I can get out of bed and do all the things that need done in the day. But, I know that I am still so dead emotionally, until that huge wave of disbelief, loss and pain wash over me and threaten to take me under for good, I don't really feel anything. And, I just discovered how feeling true joy also lets the genie out of that bottle and all the pain and loss come out also. It is so scary that I can't really feel joy without feeling so much overwhelming heartbreak. We are in MC and I have been asking my husband, for months, to "stand in my pain" with me when those feelings reach the boiling point and finally, this past Monday, he did it. Our MC told him that because he could do that, he put medicine on my wound. The medicine will take time to work, but it is medicine nonetheless. The truth of your words are more of that medicine.

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    1. That's one of the hurdles we need to clear, post-betrayal. In our effort to function, we often numb our pain. Which serves us in the short term. Long-term, however, it leaves us in the plain of lethal flatness, a state of numbness in which, though we no longer feel such pain, we also don't feel joy. In fact, we don't feel much of anything.
      Our task is to begin to experience that numbed-out pain, to let it out and trust that it won't swallow us whole. We can handle it. And by allowing ourselves to feel it, we can learn to let it wash over us. It's a feeling. That's all it is. It isn't US. And then we also open the door to all those other emotions -- joy, frustration, sadness, contentment.
      I became so good at bottling up my pain that I ended up doing EMDR to get back in touch with it. EMDR seems rather hocus-pocus-y. But, somehow, it worked. I worked through stuff I hadn't even though about in years...but were still blocking my ability to experience life's full range.
      I'm glad your husband was able to "stand in your pain." They're often so fearful of showing up for your pain but once they do, and they realize that this isn't about a public stoning, they're more likely to be able to continue to do it. And ultimately make your relationship richer than it was pre-betrayal.

      Elle

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  5. Pretty soon after d day in August either my husband was fishing for excuses or just trying to show me where his head was at over 2 years ago when he cheated, he said we were having problems-- not having sex (I was always too tired between my full time job, trying to help my 2 kids with homework & activities when I got home, cooking, cleaning, & even helping him w his work). And we never had any alone time, never got a babysitter, never did anything alone, just the 2 of us. All of this is true, although I replied that the appropriate course of action would have been to discuss it & come up with a solution, even if it meant telling his mom who watches our kids when I'm at work that we were having problems so that we could have some alone time together, not having an affair.

    But several weeks later when I was on the crazy roller coaster one nite he saw me taking all of anger, frustration, & bitterness out on the kids, he told me don't blame them, it's not their fault. I replied it was because if it weren't for them we would have had time together & I wouldn't have been so busy and tired that sex just didn't seem important anymore. At which point he insisted it wasn't their fault. I said well I have to blame someone; it has to be someone's fault. And as I stood their crying he said "blame me: it's my fault & no one else's."

    What more is there to say? How can you ask why after that? Your article is so true. His statement really helped me and I will always remember it.

    -Sam

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  6. I'm 11 months past D-Day and tomorrow is a DATE. the day they moved their affair from an emotional affair and tried to make it a physical one. I say tried as after being told that he did, I have now been told he didn't or couldn't more to the point. Something I don't believe and beg to know the truth but all I get is 'you know everything now'. Lets please move on!

    I've never really asked WHY. I know things were bad with the business failing and we were losing our house etc. I'm also grown up enough to know that when he 'put out' to her in the bar in Spain that when he got a reaction back he was not going to give the chance a miss. He did not Affair down like a lot of people have said on this site. She is 10 years younger than him and very pretty. (I'm 6 years younger and very pretty)

    I think the bigger question for me is HOW. How do they walk through the door and look in our faces, kiss and cuddle us on a night out, lay in bed with us, have sex with us, go on holiday with us. etc etc. Thats what I will never understand.

    When I found him with the second mobile and we had just become Grandparents for the 1st time our Grandson was 7 weeks premature and weight 4lb 3oz. I needed an answer he said he was texting sex lines with the other mobile. I'm sorry etc lets go to the hospital and see the baby. HOW how could he. He then carried on talking to her and meet her again.
    2 weeks later I woke up and looked at his iPhone billing and found her 2 numbers. HOW does a women know that he was losing his house and the Grandchild etc she must of thought he is not thinking straight. Shellfish person, why did she not say we need to stop.

    No I will never understand HOW. and now they both say Oh sorry it was a mistake. But they knew that the minute telephone numbers where exchanged.

    Its also HOW do they think it will never get found out!!! It always does.

    Also, people are losing interest in this with me. After all it's been nearly a year, I must be moving on now!

    We just had a week in Mexico for his 60th. I stopped taking my 'happy pills' one day. Made the mistake of thinking that being on holiday would make me 'normal' again. I became my angry person again and went straight back on them. Is this normal, can anyone tell me and if so for how long do I need to stay on them. Just want to be normal again.

    Thanks Elle, please don't stop. I need to read and know that I'm not alone

    Jane x

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    1. Jane
      I have asked that question many times. How did you come home and carry on like nothing had happened? I know it is that compartmentsization thing!!! And he became an EXPERT!! How else can you carry on for 2 years? He became an expert at living his double life! It hurts like hell BUT I see the pain in his eyes evert time I melt down. I am 15 months out from the day I got MY marriage back...heck that was the day we BOTH got our lives back. The how could you and the WHY is not an easy answer. Because really it's because he could! He made that choice. A choice that TODAY he would NOT make. But that is because of all the hard work and up untill recently weekly IC has shown him who he was and how to steer clear of all the excuses he made to justify the single most selfish decision he has ever made. Therapy has helped him and I know he will continue on. I too go to my own IC on as needed basis. I "check in " every few months. I don't take a happy pill although I have a friend who gave me 5 xanax pills a year ago...I have one left...when I need to sleep it works great! This is exhausting work BUT I am a survivor by nature...I cry and I feel the deep pain and saddness..I long to feel really normal. I know that day will come. I have seen it..felt it and more days than not lived it. I also KNOW God is fighting for us too.
      I agree with you...Elle don't stop writing you are providing a safe and very REAL place for us all ...thank you from the bottom of my mending heart!!
      xo
      L

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  7. I think I know the 'why' (she was available, they had this friendship 'click' (and she felt like she needed him (he was listening to her) and was in love with him. I think that was the main bit)

    I can also see the 'how' because I've read so much about this. And I won't ever say I would never fall into the trap (it's like an addiction, easy to get, hard to get rid of). When you're naive and think that it's not going to be that bad and think you've got it under control (NOT! ;-)), I can see how it happens.

    I just hope that it's not going to happen again. I think we're past the naivety, have a more intense marriage, in a lot of respects. It's a shame it had to happen this way, but the only way to survive this, is to find your better self, and your better husband's self. And be better together.

    That means that I have to love myself first (I'm learning :-)). Do the things that make me happy and strong (my faith has been immensely important too. I don't know if I'd have made it without that!). Then I can take care of my kids and husband (who is trying really hard. Maybe not exactly how I would want it, but hey, he's different, that's why I liked him in the first place! And he's back to his 'normal' self (with improvements!)).

    I'm not sure if I can trust anyone 100% anymore, but I don't need that to be happy with myself and my life.

    It has been very important for me to start the forgiveness process. If you feel angry with your husband most of the time, quite some time after he's said it was his fault and that he's sorry and has shown he wants to make things better, I'd advice you to find ways to forgive (there are lots of good books and I found this website very helpful! http://www.goasksuzie.com/).

    I think that forgiveness is the most precious gift you can give yourself after the affair (also forgiving myself for my mistakes). I've been angry for a long time, but after the initial primal anger, it hasn't really built me up. Forgiveness has. It's still an ongoing process for me, but more healing!

    Mara x

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  8. I was doing pretty well working in MC and with my WH on path of rebuilding marriage until yesterday...when I found out about yet another woman who he saw for sex on an anniversary night we always celebrated (first date) last fall. I thought he was at a work dinner that happened to go till 10pm. I found out thru my own means that he left early and went to see her at her apartment. I sat alone waiting for him to come home.
    I cannot understand how these men do this, leave you on your anniversary to go get a hand-job, which was his thing, with a stranger, then come home and act normal.
    How do they live with themselves even now in the aftermath of this?
    I am learning about the why of what he did; really struggling after this latest with "is he worth staying with?"
    he will not attend SA meetings but is reading the book; thinks counseling is useless but continues to go with me.
    I am so tired of these lies that keep getting discovered.
    I assume it is normal to keep changing your mind during this process about how you feel about this person ?? Right now rage is winning; last week before this latest discovery, I felt closeness and love.
    J.

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  9. Hi Jane, I replied to you in the "Stuck Thread."
    I urge you to carefully read this article and the others on here. It offers alot of wisdom. Is he showing you that he wants to make this right and do the work to figure out for himself "why?" I think that for those of us who can unstick ourselves from the anger, we have been able to answer that with a "yes." If we don't know, or the answer is "no," then ask yourself what you are willing to accept for yourself.
    And remember, you have the ability to make choices for yourself regardless of what he does or says.
    One more thing, remember that "affairing down" doesn't have to do with how "hot" or young the other woman is. She is a woman with very little integrity and self-respect who chose to be with a man who is showing his own lack of integrity and self-respect. A decent woman would expect a man to have the courage to end a committed relationship before entering a new relationship. A self-respecting woman should expect nothing less than honesty and truth from her partner.
    -MBS

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  10. Hi,

    I wanted to give you a heads up that DatingAdvice.com has named you as one of the year's "10 Best Blogs for Wives." The rankings were published this morning, and we'll be promoting it on-site and through other social media channels over the coming days.

    You can view your write-up here: http://www.datingadvice.com/for-women/10-best-blogs-for-wives

    You have the bragging rights, so feel free to share the news on your blog and with your followers! Let me know if I can be of any help in promoting the news.

    Can I send you a badge recognizing that you made the list?

    Have a great day,
    Hayley

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  11. Oh boy that was THE number one question for many months for me and as I read is also the number one question for most betrayeds. I found my own answer and simply because he could. It works for me but yes focusing on the why's of his choices only deflects us from asking the real questions to ourselves.

    You've done a great job on this one! Thanks

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  12. Jane X I am now Steam (as in full steam ahead) (formerly Anonymous 2 times) We too just returned from the scene of his "crime", which was also out of the country. I am just two months past D Day. What I wanted from him, as we wandered 'that' neighborhood, was for him to ask me how I was doing, ask how I felt. Hold my hand at a restaurant. He is doing so many things right, counseling, answering any questions I have that can pop out of nowhere. but I can tell he wants to drop the subject., because his horrendous behaviour has, without a doubt, stopped.
    He is not in touch with "her" or anyone from his multiple false e-mail accounts anymore. I know he is doing that right. But I hear you. The HOW is the one thing that takes up too much space in my brain. How could he do this? How could he expect me to be fine by now? How can i drop the subject. How can I live with this for the rest of our lives. Elle, I agree with Jane X--please don't stop. I don't know what I would do without this safe place. I still have a lot of hope, but I am weary of my dull head and muted emotions getting in the way.

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  13. I feel ur pain. How could he come home to me & the kids after being with her? How could he look me in the eye & lie to my face, saying he was going to work & yet he was seeing her? Towards the end of their affair, his sister found out that HER husband was having an affair & how could my husband accompany his sister to the lawyer & witness her devastation first hand & yet continue to make plans for his mistress to come up from her home state once a month & meet up at a conference together?

    What I have learned is that I can't impose my ideals & perspective on to someone else, esp a man. Men want sex to score; that's why prostitutes are women. It's an accomplishment for a man to have sex with a woman but not vice versa; also I read somewhere else on this blog men are waffles with everything compartmentalized & women are spaghetti with everything intertwined. One of the many reasons I couldn't have ever had an affair is that I would never jeopardize our family unit but he saw it as separate, just sex, not having anything at all to do with me or the family. It sounds like a cop out but u can't apply your standards and perspective as a woman & mother to a man.

    I really found this literature helpful: not just friends, after the affair, a blog on the internet written by a man who had an affair himself (I can't remember the name right now), & anything written by Peggy Vaughn. It helps to try to see things from his perspective, even though you rightly feel you shouldn't have to.

    -Sam

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  14. Is it possible to feel worse around the anniversary date?...I am going to say yea. ..I still ask why and all he can say is that we already talked about it. ..is that fair? I am emotionally disrupted that we got into a fight that ended up with me being in the hospital because of a car accident cause by it that left me with a broken ankle and a totaled car. ...oh and 6 months out of work...just because I asked why....I think we have the right to ask why as much as we want to.

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    1. Yes, it's not only possible to feel worse around an anti-versary, but it's probable. Even when we're not consciously aware, so many memories are stored in our bodies.
      I'm sorry for what's happened. Car accident? Hope you're healing physically as well as emotionally.

      Elle

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  15. Hit a tree....I am ok....and I can honestly say that this is an eye opener I can truly see who he is....it is unfortunate that it has to be this way....but has been kind loving caring all what I want in a man....I can honestly say that there is no doubt that we still there for each other and I can say I'm moving on....I just need a bit work myself with anger and stuff but I'm getting there.

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    1. Egads. I'm glad you're okay. And I'm glad you're using this as a chance to get clear on what's important and how you're going to move forward through this in a way that helps you become healthier, emotionally and physically.

      Elle

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  16. Thank you Steam, MBS, Sam and everyone for taking time to write.

    No we have not been to MC. I don't feel it will prove anything. I have my husband back I know that. I also know that we both didn't like each other for a time while the business was failing and we were losing our house. She made it worse because my husband thought that being with her made him happy, When he came back to me I had become what was all bad about our life.

    I have no job as my business has gone. I have no house because the bank took most of it. I sold my car because she sat in it. I made him sell his van as she sat in it.

    I'm thankful that I have my marriage back and life is becoming better, different but better. we are no longer stressed and fighting each other. He is back into work, which now looking back he was very unhappy. He has worked so hard all his life and the business that I pushed for took most of it.

    So why do I continue to be upset about what happened over a year ago now! Why can't I forget all the things that happened and he did with her? I want to be back to myself and move forward but my heart is still broken. We've had a very loving and close relationship for 32years, it was bad for 7 months. But we have a deeper relationship now. I love him so much and I know he really loves me and is so sorry and can not believe what he did or why it happened. I also hate him!!

    I will continue to read this site and try to understand what has be written. I will also continue to be a nice person even if people who cross my path are not. They will not change me.

    God Bless xx

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