Sunday, July 31, 2011

Guest Spouse: Infidelity is Abuse. Period.

       [Rabbi Sean Gorman and I met on this site here, where he commented to a betrayed wife that all cheating is abuse. I disagreed and our conversation began. Though I maintain that, in my case, the infidelity was not a form of abuse (though I can see aspects of it as such), I nonetheless appreciate the expertise and compassion that Rabbi Gorman brings to the issue and invited him to post here. I'm sure many of you will recognize your situation in what he describes...and I hope you'll find his views help clarify and strengthen your understanding. In any case, as always, I invite you to share your story and your thoughts.]

As a married man who has never gone astray and whose spouse has never gone astray, I feel a little out of place writing for betrayed wives.  Elle, the owner of this blog, invited me to write here after we disagreed on another blog.  The invitation is most flattering.

            The disagreement that led to this article has to do with whether or not adultery is spousal abuse, specifically emotional abuse.  I maintain that it is, in all cases.  For now, we can certainly agree that flagrant adultery is.

            What led to this conclusion?  A friend had a husband who was a philanderer.  He made no effort to hide the indiscretion.  Cell phone records and e-mails stayed visible.  Some of those phone calls took place during dinner.  The lightning flash was when I realized it was abusive.  After he physically attacked her, it became easier to point out the adultery as part of a picture of abuse.

            What is abusive about adultery?  Let us take a look at some of the blatant lies adultery attempts to present as truth:

            1.  The other one is better in bed.
            2.  What you give only to me, I can get anywhere.
            3.  You bore me.
            4.  You do not “put out” enough.
            5.  I will come to our bed when I am good and ready.
            6.  Being in someone else’s bed is more important and more meaningful than being in our own.

            The constancy of those statements demoralizes and humiliates the target.  The sneakiness of the tawdry behaviour leaves the betrayed spouse wondering if the perceived reality is correct.  Such demoralization, such humiliation, and such wondering about reality are all constants in abusive situations.

            We would not accept such statements in any other room of the house.  We would not accept constant statements about our cooking or our driving.  No matter what the subject, that type of statement is humiliating and demoralizing.  Nothing has changed just because we are talking about sex.  In fact, the statements are more insidious for being of that subject.  No other piece of our marriages cuts as much to the very essence of who we are. 

            Furthermore, it is a violation of the one room of the house we share with no one else.  We can have guests in the kitchen.  People can sit in the living room.  The marital bedroom has a lock on the door.  No one else is allowed in.  When one member of a couple unlocks that door, it states that the one part of our lives that is not for open consideration means nothing to the one who opened the door.  Sacred intimacies (and more) are thus bared to the world.

            When Elle asked me to write for this blog, she suggested that I write about how people recover.  The first step to any recovery is to label the problem.  Labeling adultery as abuse yields the immediate response.  In a relationship that is physically abusive, the first step is to ascertain safety – stop the immediate abuse.  The second step is accountability – appropriate apologies that mean something.  The third step is taking actions that build trust and prevent future abuse. 

            It applies here.  Stop the adultery.  Make sure that the offending spouse admits guilt and understands the impact of what happened.  Put rules – yes, marriage has rules – put rules in place that prevent it from happening again.  Verify that those rules are being followed and that they are accomplishing what they need to accomplish.

            A wise pastor once taught me that we should not confuse forgiveness with reconciliation.  These are two separate steps.  Forgiving a philandering spouse does not mean that all is better immediately.  As betrayed wives, you should not feel pressured to reset the clock and clean the slate.  That will take time.  Trust is hard to build.  It is even harder to rebuild.  For your husbands to expect that everything will immediately go back to the way it was is na├»ve, as well as a continuation of the abuse.  It is often difficult for an adulterer to understand that a shower and a couple of counseling sessions cannot wash away the scars of such an injury. 

            In any case of abuse, we do not blame the recipient.  An abused spouse did not fail at various parts of the marital role, thus leading to the next outburst.  Accepting blame for the actions of others is not appropriate here.  Do not fall into the trap of accepting blame for actions you did not commit.

Rabbi Sean Gorman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Pride of Israel in Toronto.  He is also a US Navy Chaplain attached to 218 MEFREL.



Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who defines cheating? And should we care?

There was much debate, the wake of Anthony Weiner's resignation, regarding whether what he did was, technically, cheating.
And it's a point that has, occasionally, raged here and in our own lives.
Many of us pre-D-Day, would have said that we were comfortable with our husbands having female friends but that any sex outside of our marriage, even a one-night-stand, was "a deal-breaker." Post D-Day, we've often reversed that view, discovering that it's not the sex that's so troublesome but the lying and the intimacy shared with another. Many of us discover that our husband's emotional affair – sharing dreams, hopes and, often, dissatisfaction with his marriage – is excruciating and hard to handle. Making it harder is sometimes the notion of others that "he didn't have sex", therefore he didn't technically break his marriage vows.
But there's nothing technical about healing from an affair. It's complicated and painful and doesn't follow prescribed rules. Most of us muddle through, hair unwashed and heart broken, until the day we feel a sliver of light shine through the dark and we realize that we just might survive this marital apocalypse.
And then comes the process of sifting through the rubble and trying to make sense of what the hope that if we understand it, we can protect ourselves from it happening to us again.
But I'm not sure, unless we've been tempted ourselves or are capable to truly putting ourselves in our spouse's shoes, we'll ever really understand it. So often I hear the familiar Nancy Reaganesque refrain of the betrayed – "He could have just said 'No'."
Sure he could have. But whether he didn't say "no" to actual sex or didn't say "no" to cyber sex or didn't say "no" to sharing intimate details of his life, all the analysis in the world isn't going to change that. And, oddly, it stops really mattering at some point whether he had actual sex, cyber sex or emotional intimacy. The point is he shared something private – that was supposed to be between you and him – with someone else. And that hurts like hell.
The only people who get caught up in the semantic gymnastics of what cheating really is are those looking for a loophole out of their own guilt...or those who've never had it done to them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Say It Out Loud

I have a framed print beside my bed with the infamous Emile Zola quote:
If you ask me what I came into this world to do
I will tell you:
I am here to live out loud.

It has always resonated with me. I tend toward the apologetic. The people-pleasing. The swallowing of true thoughts. And yet, I desire to live out loud.

Two days ago, I heard a radio documentary about domestic violence. It followed a young man who had been sentenced to community service and counselling following an incident in which he punched his wife. He was telling his story. And when he got to the part where he told the reporter his wife had called the police, he said that the reason was because he punched her. He exhaled audibly. "Wow," he said. "I just said that out loud."
He noted how, for years as their relationship got increasingly abusive, he allowed himself to believe that was how couples dealt with frustration and anger. His parents had. And his wife frequently let him off the hook, by apologizing for making him angry. By agreeing with him that she, too, lost her temper.
And yet, when he spoke the words out loud, all that changed. There was no more hiding the truth in the shadows.

It got me thinking about betrayal. And how frequently we don't speak the words out loud that we're thinking because we fear them being true.
When our friends note that our husbands seem to be working "a lot" and we defend their work ethic, though we feel a kick in our gut. When our parents point out that our husbands seem disengaged with the kids and we defend them, though we frequently feel alone in our parenting.
Not, of course, that workaholism and absent parenting means cheating. My point is simply that we frequently have a narrative in our heads that simply isn't the truth. And by not saying the truth out loud – by hiding it in the shadows of excuses – we lie not only to the world but more importantly to ourselves.

We see it all the time. The parent who refuses to acknowledge that her child's behaviour indicates a serious problem, dismissing it at a "phase". The woman who ignores the lump because she's sure it's "nothing." And the wife who defends her husband's emotional absence instead of saying – out loud – that he's checked out of the marriage.

I don't know what would have been different if I'd been able to say out loud what I feared. I tried. I said I didn't like the late dinners with his assistant. I pointed out that, if she was truly a loyal and valuable employee, she would want him home with his wife and kids. But I didn't say out loud what I truly feared because I also feared looking crazy, or jealous, or hysterical.

These days, I'm living life out loud. Which means talking about a whole lot of things that make me uncomfortable –  from discussing STDs with my newly-teen daughter to talking stuff over with my husband.
But the alternative, hiding truth in darkness and silencing myself, is no longer an option.


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