Wednesday, May 25, 2016
"Getting Away with It": How Our Desire for Revenge Gets in the Way of Our Healing
"She gets to walk away with no impact on her life," one of us wrote.
"There's no accountability," bemoaned another.
"I'm here in pieces and on her Facebook page are photos of her laughing and showing off a new ring and having fun," raged another.
Ah, the lament of the truly wronged. We not only want karma to hit her hard, we want a front-row seat for it. We want to witness her misery. To relish her pain.
It's a normal impulse. We're hard-wired to want fairness. Ever listened to a five-year-old who's been cheated out of her share of birthday cake? The outrage! The sense of injustice! So it's not at all surprising that when we feel someone has helped herself to something (or someone!) that is ours, we scream for our pound of flesh.
And, yeah, there might be some satisfaction over discovering that her husband tossed her out. Or she lost her job. Or her children hate her guts. Or that she was just diagnosed with cancer. Or got a DUI. But, if you're anything like me, you over-estimated the satisfaction you thought you'd feel from seeing the karma bus run her over. And under-estimated the pain that still sat like an elephant on your heart.
What's more, surely the one overwhelming lesson we can take from a partner's betrayal is that life isn't fair.
I watched the OW get fired, though she negotiated a hefty severance package thanks to my husband's desire to make her go quietly. ("Money earned on her back," I was heard to mutter). But even knowing she felt humiliated and disappointed at losing a job she liked didn't really change anything. Getting fired was the logical consequence for someone who spent more time at her job looking for men to screw than clients to sign so, in that sense, she didn't "get away with it." Her pain didn't make mine any more bearable. It simply kept me hooked into her life, connected to her by bitterness.
Besides, a few years later, I heard she had found a new job, gotten married and was pregnant. So much for payback.
By then, however, I was able to respond in a way I couldn't have imagined closer to D-Day. I was able to hope she'd done some real reckoning with her choices and was able to be a good wife, a good mother. I knew her own parents had sucked and I hoped she was able to create a better home than the one she'd been raised in.
That ability to offer up even the teensiest bit of compassion for her was a big part of my own healing. By letting go of my focus on her and her life, I was free to focus on me and how the hell I was going to get through this agony. Besides, her life was a mess. Had always been. And that's the thing with so many of these Other Woman. There are exceptions to the train-wreck OWs that populate our lives, sure. But, c'mon, people who get involved with married men are, almost by definition, people who lack healthy boundaries, a moral compass, and self-respect. While we may not see them pay for their transgressions, they pretty much write their own endings. And they're rarely "happily ever after."
So no matter how much it looks like they "got away with it", know this: If they are capable of the smallest bit of self-examination, they didn't get away with a thing. They know exactly what they did and the deception and pain they helped create is something they will live with for the rest of their lives. Those who are incapable or unwilling to take responsibility for the role they played? They can play all the moral gymnastics they want to convince themselves – and others – that they weren't the ones who did anything wrong. ("I wasn't the one who made any vows"; "We didn't intend to hurt anyone." "It just happened." "We're free to love who we want" and blah blah bullshit blah). But those who go through life without any regard or respect for anyone's feelings but their own will inevitably live lives that are small and sad and lonely.
Most of us won't get that front-row seat for the OW's pain. We' won't be there for their 3 a.m. moments of reckoning when the weight of their choices sits on our chests.
All we can do is focus on our own healing. Trust in our own strength. And continue to be guided by our own integrity. There's no shortcut through the pain of betrayal. But refusing to remain hooked into the messy lives of these OW will ensure that our own path toward healing has fewer roadblocks.