Wednesday, April 30, 2014

His Cheating Can't Be Your Trump Card

Marriage is tough.
Even marriages that haven't been marked by infidelity face their share of challenges.
Even those people can be guilty of dredging up past transgressions to shame or guilt or otherwise manipulate their partner into better behaviour.
But for those of us who've survived betrayal, our spouse's cheating can feel like something of a trump card.
No matter what WE might have done – told a friend something about our spouse we shouldn't have, overridden him when he tied to discipline the kids, secretly applied for a credit card that we then racked up to quadruple digits – it's never as bad as what HE did.
In other words, we can sometimes use his massive betrayal to minimize our own.
Which might, in the short term, kinda get us off the hook. But certainly does nothing to help us rebuild a marriage based on honesty and respect and consideration.
Thing is, betrayal does loom large, at least at first. It seeps into every interaction, every altercation, every assumption.
Perhaps you're having a garden variety argument about how maybe, just maybe he could help out a bit more around the house, like do the dishes now and again, or take the kids to swimming lessons for a change, or... And then he says, "I do plenty around here. You just don't see how much I do." To which you reply, "You're damn right you do plenty. And you're damn right I didn't see it." At which point, you either fling a cellphone at him or dissolve into tears or storm out of the room.
Or his lateness becomes a huge issue because "what if... no, he wouldn't....but what if he is?!" So by the time he walks in the door ten minutes late muttering about the "damn train", you've mentally filed divorce papers and are shaking with anger and fear.
Overhearing him tell his mother that he can't visit her this weekend because he's busy when you know he's got nothing planned becomes huge because "he's dishonest about everything. Can the man even say One Single Thing that's not a total lie? What am I even doing with this idiot?"
See what I mean?
There are times when our spouse's cheating should absolutely be on the table for discussion. His lateness might be (probably is!) a huge trigger for you and needs to be addressed. His little white lies might be a pattern of dishonesty that allowed him to deceive with ease. So bring it up. Make it a goal to introduce radical honesty into your lives (which goes for you, too -- no more, "I'm fine" passive-aggressiveness). And division of labor is an issue in every single marriage I know, and the fact that so many of us were up to our eyeballs in diapers and Lego while our husbands were the ones doing the playing just ramps up our anger.
It will take a Herculean effort to bite your tongue when it's so tempting to toss his cheating in his face. And so much in the days following D-Day feels like more effort than you can -- than you should have to! – muster.
But I speak from experience. I played my trump card often. And, frankly, I never felt better. There was a momentary "so there asshole!" feeling of triumph. But it vanished quickly, leaving my husband locked in self-loathing, and no longer able to hear a word I was saying over the sound of  his own internal shaming. And it left me feeling weak and defeated. Lose-lose.
If your goal is to rebuild your marriage, then you need to be able to address issues apart from his infidelity. Using his cheating as your trump card is the marital equivalent to throwing a match on a pile of dried tinder.
It might shut him up or shut him down...but there won't be much left worth saving.


  1. Exactly what I needed today. Even when I don't say it out loud, I feel it. I need to get to the other side of this!
    I check back everyday to see if you have posted again. Thank you for your encouragement!

  2. Ditto elladisenchanted! Thank you for another great post, Elle.

  3. Excellent post and very sound advice. It was so hard to bite my tongue earlier on (I'm 16 months in now) and I often failed. It's gotten much easier as time goes on. Once I was able to see that he was locked in self-loathing and shame, as you said, every time I said what I was thinking, I realized that I was only inflicting more damage on our wounded marriage. He was (and still is, to a degree) always feeling those things, but would at least try to keep his head above the murky water... my words were like an angry hand pushing him under and holding him there. If I really did still love him and truly wanted our marriage, I had to stop.

    1. This has been my experience, exactly. It has been two years, and still sometimes feel the need to ask "why" or, I hate to say it, to punish him for it. And then I realize that does no good for him, for me, or for us.

      I recently said, "If I never brought it up again (which isn't going to happen, but just hypothetically), I'd worry that you would forget what we've learned, that you'd think what you did was okay." 

      He said, "If you never brought it up again, I would still think of it every day. Every day, I remember that I need to be a better person than I was then. I'll never forget that."

      I suddenly felt that one worry completely set to rest.

  4. I agree Kate M, I'm 7 months in I'm doing really well overall, however I do have triggers that set of feelings of insecurity which can ultimately result in me spurting out a load of garbage, it's neither constructive or helpful and results in me ending up in tears for acting like a foul mouthed lunatic. My husband is left hurt and confused. I'm thankful that I can recognise that my behaviour is more harmful than good and can work on that. My marriage is important to me and I love my husband even with his mistakes I just need to trust myself now, take each day and it comes and enjoy every minute of it. Life is very short make the most of every day : ) lots of love x

  5. It's so hard to control the feelings. But he definitely deserves a second chance. I just lazy dip much trust. I trusted him blindly and now I can't Sgt all.

  6. So I am 6 months post DDay. Since then, my husband has done everything right. Today he moved out. Not because he is with her, but because his guilt is killing him and he can't bear to see my pain anymore. I don't know what to do. I tried to post in healing hearts but could not figure out how. I am desperate. I know he needs to heal too. I know my pain is overwhelming. Should I give up? I totally believed all along that we would eventually get thru this but please. Not sure I am going to survive.

    1. Ella,
      Is he in therapy? It strikes me as odd that his guilt is killing him and he thinks that by leaving you, his guilt will abate.
      I can't help but think there's something else going on here.
      If you don't have a counsellor, I hope you'll get one too. You need the support to help get through this. It's so tough.
      In the meantime, just focus on taking a breath. Then another. You will get through this, not matter how it turns out. Yes, it's excruciating. But so many women -- those who've managed to rebuild their marriages and those who've rebuilt their lives by moving on -- have found their way through this pain.
      You will too. Trust that. Trust that you are strong enough.
      And please continue to post here. It really does help to share your story and find support.


    2. He thinks by leaving me, he is doing me a favor. He is not in therapy. We have been going to mc but it has been excruciating. He says he is leaving to work on healing, forgiving himself. He says he just got a 'short term lease'. I feel like he is giving me hope without giving me hope. I am destroyed. I have to find a way to stand on my own but I have never stood on my own. How do I heal ever? I am trying to cry out to God. Practically speaking, I have no idea what to do. How do I move forward? I have been a mom. I haven't worked in 20 years. I have only been in this state since nov. and really only know 2 couples at church. I am totally alone and can't function.

    3. Ella,

      You CAN function. If you've been a mom, then you are far more capable than you're giving yourself credit for.
      Accept that this is going to be hard. Hard but not impossible. Get yourself a counsellor to help you with the fear. Dare I say...this could be really good for you. A chance for you to recognize just what you're made of and just how strong you really are. You absolutely can do this. Give yourself a short period of time to fall part each day if you need to. But then resolve to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Can you talk to your priest/minister about getting involved in any committees or social groups? Are there any hobbies you're curious about? This is a chance to really get to know yourself. I completely get that this is NOT what you want. But it is what you have. Can you trust God/the universe that this is something that you can handle? Hand over the struggle and trust that all you need to do is keep taking one small step forward.
      In the meantime, let your husband do what he needs to do. You can't control him. The hard lesson so many of us have had to learn is that we never could. But you can control yourself. And that's enough.


    4. Ella,

      I know you don't believe it but you can do this and you will. After a few months on your own you will have so many things to be proud of. I had been married 31 years when I discovered my husband had been lying to me for many years and had sex with nearly 100 partners. I asked him to leave 15 months post D-Day when I found out he had tried to meet a hooker for a quickie one Saturday. I had never lived on my own, either but figured it out. A couple of weeks after he left I had a gas leak in the house. I panicked for a moment, then called the utilities company, they sent a repair guy out who found and fixed the problem. After he left I sat down and drank a bottle of wine and congratulated myself for not calling my husband and not blowing up the house.

      Goofy story but the point is I took care of it on my own. I transferred all the utilities into my name, cut off the stupid cable service, made a budget I could live with, connected with some old friends, made some new ones, started to explore some hobbies I never had time for, made a life for myself. I finally started to live my life as an adult rather than fitting in the spaces of what was left over after my husband got everything he wanted.

      We started couples therapy about six months into the separation. For me, it was kind of a "This is our last chance" kind of thing. It was difficult and painful but after six months of couples therapy and a year of individual therapy and separation he moved back home and we've been together about a year.

      We're both much wiser. Elle is so right in saying that you can only control yourself. You can only decide what you can live with, what you will accept, and what you need to be happy. You can do it. We will be here whenever you need someone to understand.

      I promise you will feel amazing once you realize how strong you really are. All you need to do for today is take one tiny step toward independence. The second and third and fourth steps will get easier.

  7. Honestly, it is difficult to not play the "if I were "her" this would not be a problem" card now a days. I feel that it is true sometimes because the lengths that he went to that he has never went to for me and things that were shared that I will probably never know and it sucks. Now mostly I realize that it is my own miscommunication, lack there of or need to get my way because you cheated. Once my counselor made it obvious to me, I have been working to see the situation for what it is and not what I imagine it to be. It gets easier with time but sexually related issues, it is hard to not believe the obvious but it is a work in progress.

  8. This post is so true. It is soooo difficult not to throw it in his face every opportunity I have; it is soooo difficult to bite my tongue and not make every sarcastic comment whenever it pops into my head. But I have to remind myself that if I were in his shoes, I would never stay in that kind of marriage. And I also keep telling myself that I don't have to keep reminding him; he hasn't forgotten-- he is reminding himself and torturing himself too. Let that be enough. Let me show my true character and moral worth as someone who sees the good in him beyond this stupid mistake.


  9. Today is a REALLY bad day. As he was getting ready for work he was complaining to me how he feels like we don't have a life. WE? From where I'm sitting he's just fine. I've told him, what I find may even be harder for me to deal with is not the sex, but all the places he went with THEM & not me. While I was sitting home with the kids, they went to shows, to get massages, to dinner, amusement parks, wine tasting, & I don't know what else. He never takes off to go anywhere w me alone or w me and the kids (one year we ende up going to the aquarium without him). And yet I found out last week (when I found out about another physical affair) that he took a day off 9 years ago to spend the day with that OW (they went swimming in OUR pool, I'm sure had sex in OUR bed or OUR lounge chair, & went to lunch together. He's NEVER done that for ME.

    I had to sit there & listen to him & bite my tongue. I wanted to scream out

    Then in the next breath he reads me a text about a delicate work situation where he was invited out for drinks by a colleagues mistress. What excuse should he give why he can't go? I said text her back u have plans with ur wife. He checks his phone & says oh I'm going out that day anyway (work related dinner, which he has many of as a physician).

    But WE don't have a social life & WE don't do anything.

    I can't take it. Sometimes I feel like I'm going to explode. I just want to say every sarcastic thing that comes to mind to make him suffer the way I am. But there's no point because even if I did that it still wouldn't be the same. He'll never feel the pain that I do.


    1. Oh Sam, I'm sorry.
      You're right in that he'll never feel the pain that you do. But he CAN be more sensitive to your pain and it sounds as if he isn't at all right now.
      Even the question about what to tell a colleague's mistress. Really? A simple "no" works wonders. Is he a total pleaser? Needing people to really like him? Cause that's what it sounds like. And guys (and women) like that have such a hard time setting boundaries with other people because they want everyone to "like" them. Sadly, they have no trouble violating our boundaries and expecting us to always be good sports. And, for too many years, we have been good sports.
      Sam, your anger is telling you that aren't feeling heard and your pain isn't being acknowledged by him. Before you explode, write down everything you need from him, including the sensitivity to not ask you how to deal with an invitation to drinks from a colleague's mistress (!!!) and also including your desire that he play an active role in the life of your family -- spending time together with the kids and alone as a couple. And then let him know what it is you need not only to trust that your faith in him is not misplaced but also to help build a strong, healthy relationship.
      It's a good idea to tackle this in couples' therapy because it's less likely to go off the rails and be treated as a reasonable expectation rather than some sort of punitive measure.
      And finally, it might help to come up with a somewhat standard response when he says really insensitive things -- a sort of shorthand that allows him to "get" that he's put his foot in it without you always having to point it out. Even just a "really?" from you, with cocked eyebrow might do it.
      I know how badly you want your marriage to work, but your husband honestly needs a swift kick in the butt.
      He screwed up. He needs to own it, and stop feeling so damn sorry for himself. Please tell me he's in therapy!


  10. No we r not in therapy, I'm pretty sure because he's afraid the therapist would tell me to divorce him.

    He has actually done more with the family than ever, which actually started before d day but after the last affair ended, so he had already started becoming more involved on his own. He had also started being much nicer to me, where before he always seemed dissatisfied. He was also much more appreciative of me. He & I went away for a weekend with another couple we are friends with & he thanked me for all I do aloud in front of them. That was also after the last affair ended but before I found out.

    We have also done more things together as a couple, although I would like more it is a start. 2 weeks ago he & I went to dinner even though he was really busy that nite & had to go back to work afterward.

    I have told him that I notice and appreciate everything he's been doing. But I do think that his comment this morning was EXTREMELY insensitive.

    And yes he does need to please others, which is part if his whole problem. But I think it's mainly that he needs to please other women.

    The women that he had affairs with came on really strong. I think part of it was it was easier to go along than reject them. Maybe I'm just making excuses for him. I don't know.


  11. So true. I had this a few times in the first weeks and months following D-day. Any complain he had (even legitimate ones) would get an, "Oh yeah?! Well at least I never cheated on you!!" response. Then I'd feel horrible because I knew he'd give anything to take it back. He admits he considered committing suicide rather than telling me what he'd done. He figured if he made it look like an accident, I'd never have to know that he'd betrayed me, I'd get the life insurance and be taken care of, and maybe I would find someone else, someone better than him (his words). So every time I threw that in his face, I realized he was already so full of self-loathing I didn't need to add to it. If your spouse is truly remorseful, there's no need to remind them of it. And if they aren't remorseful, saying this won't make them so, IMO.

    I won't say I'm not still sometimes tempted to say it, but I've managed to refrain since about 6 months post D-day (the one year anti-versary is at the end of this month). I think that's progress.


    1. Gee,
      Such a good point. If they already get it, then we don't need to remind them. And if they don't? Well, then, shaming them isn't going to work either.



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