“When we discover that someone we trusted can be trusted no longer, it forces us to reexamine the universe, to question the whole instinct and concept of trust. For a while, we are thrust back onto some bleak, jutting ledge, in a dark pierced by sheets of fire, swept by sheets of rain, in a world before kinship, or naming, or tenderness exist; we are brought close to formlessness.” ~ Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets and Silence
Cheating is everywhere – in songs, in movies, in books, in our workplaces, our neighborhoods. And yet we rarely see the consequences of cheating. We might hear of the divorce and the reason behind it. Or we might know, through whispers, that someone is dealing with a spouse's affair, though we're more likely to see the brave face than the tear-streaked one.
Hiding the true impact of infidelity, however, makes it seem so much more benign than it is, so much more matter-of-fact. Less mind-blowing than mundane. Ho-hum, another cheating spouse. Tell me something new.
And then it happens to us and our world blows apart. Which leaves us with this bizarre disconnect between what the world seems to think of infidelity (it happens, get over it) and the devastation it wreaks on us, our families, our friends, our work.
As Adrienne Rich puts it: "It forces us to reexamine the universe."
It's perhaps the biggest misconception about infidelity. That it's about sex.
Infidelity is about being forced to examine our place in the universe. Our perceptions of the world. Is the world a safe place? Who can we believe? Who am I? And, so so often, just who the hell is he? Who is this stranger I'm married to who behaved in a way I could have never imagined?
To underestimate this impact is to misunderstand infidelity. Or, perhaps, to have never (yet) experienced it.
There is no way around this, of course. We can leave the marriage, which is a perfectly viable option. We can choose to stay and rebuild a second marriage with our first husband, another perfectly viable option. We can sweep it under the proverbial rug and step around it or over it or under it, though that's not such a viable option.
But, to truly heal from it, we must go through it. We must perch on Rich's "bleak, jutting ledge" and acknowledge how deep the injury goes. But then we must slowly pull ourselves back, examining all the while what this means to us, how it impacts who we are, and honoring what we need to move forward in our lives. We must learn that we can – and should – trust ourselves. Infidelity thrusts us onto that ledge. But we don't have to stay there.
It is my hope that, someday, infidelity is recognized as the cancer it is, and treated much the same way. With treatment and concern, casseroles and compassion. That it's publicly acknowledged and examined so that those of us affected by it don't have to perch on that ledge alone. That there's support and strength from those who recognize the true impact of infidelity and aren't afraid to reach out a hand.