I get letter upon letter from women who are desperate to be heard in the wake of your betrayal. And over and over again they tell me that you won't talk to them about, won't go to therapy with them, don't understand why they're not "over it."
You want to know why we want – why we need – to talk about it? Because you shattered our faith in you as a decent honest man, and the only way we can reconcile our desire to stay with you with our knowledge that you lied and cheated and violated your vows is to try, as best we can, to understand just how you could do that and still be someone worthy of our love. We're begging you to help us love you again. And the best most of you can do is ask, aloud, why we aren't "over it."
There isn't a woman on this site who doesn't desperately wish she could be "over it". We're not a bunch of masochists, revelling in our pain, compulsively picking away at the wound. We are women who are experiencing more pain than we ever imagined.
A lot of us had, perhaps, wondered abstractedly what we might do if our husbands cheated. I always thought I'd just be pissed off. I figured I'd get angry, show him the door and that would be the end of it.
I never ever imagined how emotionally crippled I would be by the realization that my husband had cheated on me. I just never imagined it. Anger? Hell yeah. But a pain so deep I could hardly breathe? Wasn't expecting that.
Psychologists and marriage therapists aren't surprised. They've seen how damaging what they term "trust violations" are. They've seen what a deep primal wound it causes. It's no coincidence that children who experience trust violations, if they aren't given help to heal, go on to experience the world as a terrifying place. In fact, many therapists insist that often what they see in partners who've been betrayed are symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Free-floating anxiety. Fear of what could happen. A lack of trust in our ability to handle things. A feeling of numbness. Sudden rage or terror. Sounds an awful lot like your wife after learning of your affair, doesn't it? And though many of us get better at managing those emotions, the best way to eliminate them is to process them.
And we do that by telling our story. Sometimes over and over again. And we need you to listen. To answer our questions, even if you've already told us (it's amazing how foggy our brains are post-betrayal).
I know it's hard. I know it requires you owning up to, over and over, just how shitty you feel. We know you feel shitty. But that doesn't change how we feel. It just makes this about you and your feelings instead of about us and our feelings. It requires a really brave man who can admit his shortcomings. Who can face that he made a choice that devastated the one person he promised never to devastate. In means doing the hard work of figuring out just what story you were telling yourself that made cheating okay. And figuring just what part of that story still needs addressing. You don't feel heard in your marriage? That's legitimate. Talk to her about it. You feel like little more than an ATM? Not uncommon. Talk to your wife about it. But talk about it after you've dressed her wound, so to speak. She can't hear you and your pain when she's metaphorically bleeding all over your floor.
Tell her that nothing she did made what you did okay. That you hate that you were that guy. That you are doing everything you can to never be that guy again. That you know how hard it is for her to give you a second chance but that you are going to spend every day of your life deserving it.
Hold her, if that's what she needs. Listen to her, if that's what she needs. Pour her a bath, if that's what she needs.
And know that you may need to do that again tomorrow night. And the night after that.
But please also know that, the more you do this now, the stronger she'll become. It's like depositing into a bank account now and letting the interest accrue so you can simply enjoy it later.
Now will be hell. I get that. Just when you want to forget about this, she wants to go over it. Again.
She's not doing it to punish you. She's not doing it to hurt you. She's doing it because her brain is trying to process something confusing and excruciating. She's doing it to figure out what little clue she missed so that she can be sure she never missed it again. Sometimes she's doing it because she saw something that day that triggered her pain in that deep, deep place. And she felt vulnerable and scared.
She's doing it to heal.
So please, don't dismiss her pain. Don't insist that she should be "over this by now."
The good news? It seems counter-intuitive but the more you talk about it and validate her pain, the more quickly she'll move through it. She'll be better able to replace those fears with the assurance that you're there for her. Maybe not then...but now. Now you are.
Betrayal changes everything. And while you can't undo what you did, you can take steps to show that you've learned from it. That you're a better man than that. That she's worth going through hell for. And that so are you.
- Join the Club...and Share Your Story
- Share Your Story: Finding Out (This section is full.)
- Share Your Story: Feeling Stuck? (This section is full.)
- Share Your Story: Multiple Affairs?
- Share Your Story: Feeling Stuck: Part Two (This section is full.)
- Share Your Story: Finding Out Part Two (FULL. Please post elsewhere.)
- Share Your Story: Finding Out (Part 3)
- Share Your Story: Feeling Stuck Part Three
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Thursday, March 6, 2014
"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.