"It's when you can feel your opponent's pain that the path to reconciliation begins." ~Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi in an interview with Krista Tippet On Being
Being cheated on will never feel "fair". And "fair" is what so many of us are after. "But it's not fair!" I would wail, like a seven-year-old whose brother got a bigger slice of pie. I was right, of course. It wasn't fair.
It wasn't fair that he got the sex and I got the empty bed. It wasn't fair that he got the attention and I got the loneliness. It wasn't fair that he got the ego strokes and the excitement of forbidden relationships while I got the day in-day out mundanity of life with three young children.
It wasn't fair that I was in excruciating pain. That I couldn't eat or sleep or work. It wasn't fair that my entire life was turned upside down because of his choices. It wasn't fair that I couldn't listen to the radio without being triggered. I couldn't see a certain model of car. I couldn't go to certain restaurants or see certain friends or experience certain kinds of weather without doubling over in pain.
It wasn't fair. None of it.
But life, as I so often remind my own children, isn't fair. And all the wishing in the world won't make it so.
Where does that leave us?
Well...it leaves us accepting that even if we cheat on him and dump his ass and successfully sue the OW for "alienation of affection" and he loses his job and his children hate him and he winds up, sockless and hatless, on a freezing winter day living in a refrigerator box and getting arrested for urinating in a public place, our hearts will still have been broken. It leaves us with a decision: To rave about the unfairness of it all or to move forward with a different understanding.
Because even if we think he somehow got away with something, what did he get away with, really? He got away with hurting the person he vowed to never hurt. He got away with being a lying scumbag. Do we really believe he isn't paying a price for those things?
Those who don't pay a price for betrayal are without a conscience. And if your husband lacks a conscience or is masterful at ignoring his conscience and plans to stay that way, then do yourself a huge favor and lawyer up.
If, however, your husband isn't a narcissist or too divorced from emotion to experience any genuine remorse for his actions, then your husband is paying. He might not be paying enough in your view (would a pound of flesh in the form of his private parts suffice, ladies?). But he's paying.
His self-respect is gone. His belief in himself as a "good guy" is gone. After all, he's that guy – the one who devastated his entire family just so he could screw someone who doesn't mean much to him in the cold light of day.
My husband paid for what he did every day for months when, as he said, he had to see the pain in my eyes and know that he was the one who caused it.
Understanding that our husbands didn't really get away with much goes a long way towards helping us feel their pain. Or at least knowing that it's there. There's plenty of pain to go around. And while the pain of the betrayed is different in that we did nothing to bring it on whereas he was the one making the choices, in the end, perhaps, pain is pain.
Betrayal hurts both partners. It's lose-lose.
Or maybe we win when we can feel each other's pain. Maybe, as Jonathan Sacks says, the path to reconciliation is created when we finally understand that we're each broken by betrayal. Reconciliation doesn't have to mean staying married. It can mean releasing each other to a different future. But regardless of what we want that future to look like, empathy for each other's pain frees us from needing "fairness" and instead offers us the imperfect grace to heal.