[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 naïve, 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.