Monday, June 25, 2018

Time and Punishment

Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.
~Mahatma Ghandi

Okay, so it's a bit unfair to ask us all to model ourselves on Ghandi. After all, I spent much of the first year post-D-Day imagining all sorts of torture and humiliation for both my husband and the OW. The fact that I didn't act on any of my dark fantasies speaks more to my lack of energy at that time than a lack of intent.
It's hard to believe when you're simmering in your red-hot rage that you will ever feel anything other than fury and a desire for vengeance. And yet, most of us discover that it does abate. That we eventually do come to a place where anger doesn't consume us, that we aren't drowning in our pain. We come to a place where we can see that our marriage is growing stronger, that our husbands have changed.
But still...sometimes months or even years later, we have a sense that we didn't punish our husbands sufficiently for their crimes. That we let them off too easily. They our partners didn't pay. 
One of our secret sisters posted recently that her marriage has become wonderful, that her husband is remorseful and grateful. And yet, she's dogged by a regret that she let him come back home too soon. That he wasn't sufficiently punished for the pain he caused.
What's up with that?
Wanting to punish people is a human impulse. Punishment, we believe, is a deterrent (though it usually just encourages people to become better at not getting caught). But punishment doesn't always show up the way we think it does. Punishment comes from outside. On the other hand, suffering comes from an internal reckoning with our choices.
I could have kicked my husband out after discovering his betrayal. It would have punished him by no longer giving him the particular pleasure of a life with me. Thing is, I didn't want a life without him, at least not without trying to rebuild our marriage. So, while he would have been punished, so would I. And so would our children.
Punishment in and of itself shouldn't be the goal. Rather, it's the natural consequence. If you choose to kick him out because you cannot live with what he did and who he is, then even though you're punishing him, that's not your motivation. Your motivation is to get him out of your life so you can move on. It's about setting boundaries and taking care of yourself. Punishing him is a consequence not the motivation. 
Punishment wouldn't have come close to what my husband was doing to himself, which was suffering. He loathed himself for what he'd done. He could barely look at himself in the mirror. He could barely look at me because, as he said, he caused the pain he saw in my eyes. By kicking him out, he didn't have to look in my eyes. Kicking him out also let him off the hook for day to day childcare and home maintenance. I'd be the one 100% stuck with soothing distraught children, wiping up spills and cleaning the litter box. He was the sinner...but I'd feel pretty damn punished.
Punishment also feels bottomless. How much is enough? Do you cast him out for a week? A month? Until you see clear repentance (I don't disagree with this last point, though, again, I see it less as punishment than self-respect and self-care). Should he lose his job? His friends? Do you offer up a daily harangue about the ways in which he's a jerk who doesn't deserve you? (Confession: I did, frequently, do exactly that. With time, however, I realized that though I might be hurting him, I was hurting myself more. I hated who I had become.)
Ask yourself this too: Is punishment about looking strong to those around you (the same ones who might offer up their "I would NEVER put up with that" editorializing)? Or is it about making him hurt the way you're hurting? Because neither reason is really about you living your own truth. It's about appearances. It's about an eye for an eye. He can't hurt like you're hurting because it's different. Being cheated on is not the same as cheating (frankly, I'll take being cheated on). 
Justice is different. Justice is about not protecting people from the consequences of their actions. Justice, as Ghandi reminds us, is motivated by love (including self-love). It's driven by clear boundaries. Justice doesn't encourage us to make somebody hurt but does reminds us not to step in and protect someone from consequences. 
Operating from a justice model means that your husband might have to give up friends who participated in covering up the affair, not to punish him but to provide emotional safety for you. Justice means that he might have to abandon any notion of privacy on his electronic devices. Or give up overnight business trips. All negotiated on the basis of what makes you feel safe and supported, not what makes him feel punished.
Any decent guy will suffer for what he did because he will not let himself off the hook. He has to live with having hurt the one person he promised not to hurt. He has to know that he let down his family, that he revealed himself to be less of a man than his partner believed.
That's got to hurt.
And if it doesn't...then no amount of punishment you mete out will make any difference. 


  1. Oh Elle - I was literally just coming here to post on the Feeling Stuck page about this.

    First - I love this - "Justice doesn't encourage us to make somebody hurt but does reminds us not to step in and protect someone from consequences."

    I feel like much of what I did in the beginning was stepping in and saving him from his own stupidity ... but really what I was doing was trying to salvage myself and the kids from his stupidity. And I think that has a lot to do with where I feel stuck.

    The other - "All negotiated on the basis of what makes you feel safe and supported, not what makes him feel punished." I know my H ... anything I do will feel like a punishment to him and once he feels that way then the chances of my boundaries being met will be slim. But I'm feeling small and more and more like a doormat because I have not voiced what boundaries I need in order to feel safe. At first I think I convinced myself that there wasn't anything I could request that would give me that security. I mean in today's society there are just too many ways to circumvent things (secret apps, disposable in a millisecond and downloaded in less than 5 seconds when convenient). But I need to think broader about boundaries than "you can't download this app" ... and put something into play that will help me because right now I'm sinking in my own smallness.

  2. Punishment for my soon to be ex is a consequence - not the motivation because - yes - I need to get him out of my life for good and take care of myself.

    I am pretty sure all the things a decent guy would feel - he doesn’t and won’t ever feel. He won’t ever suffer from any of this - he’ll just go on with his stupid life believing what he did was justifiable in many ways, have friends and girlfriends that think he is a great guy, a great job, and not concern himself with me at all.

    It is infuriating that he wasn’t punished and probably won’t be punished at all - even by himself. I need to get to a place where I just don’t care anymore and my life is full and happy.

  3. Excellent post. I've thought a lot about this over the last few weeks, actually. The sting of betrayal has passed, but I still struggle sometimes. I will find myself forcing the memories and visuals up to the front even as my H has shown amazing changes and when our communication is really good. Sometimes I can pin it to proximity (we're in a part of town near one of the OW's house), or calendar date, etc. But I have discovered that I do this because I don't want to be someone who overcame, overlooked, or forgave infidelity. I want to be someone who chose a spouse who would never do this, someone who chose correctly in the first place. Since that's no longer possible for me (I gave it my best shot! Honest!), somehow being a person who struggles with it is 'better' than being a person who is 'over' it. It's easy for me to see all the problems with my line of thinking: no one can choose so well they're safe, there's no shame in forgiveness, overcoming this shows strength... but, still, I keep choosing the struggling club over the others. I need to spend more time exploring my internal dialog over this. I have a lot to be proud about, and I deserve the joy that comes from being free of this (not the whole ting, just to let go of the visuals, etc

    1. So wise ann. I dont want to be the one that forgave and overlooked his affair either. I really thought I was safe. So dumb. Truely I feel red faced embarrassed I didn't know he was the cheating kind.

      I wanted to pick better too. I'm going to forgive myself one day for messing that up. (I hope.)

    2. Blindsided - we didn't mess that up ... they did. Because the person that we were shown is not the person that they are. I can guarantee that if you looked back you might have noticed some things that were off but they didn't do much different during their affair than they've done the entire marriage (at least in my case).

      We loved. We loved with our entire being. We should never have to apologize for that. THEY should have to ask us to forgive them for their "fraud"!

  4. Thank you so much for this! I’ve been feeling very conflicted about punishment vs forgiveness. This truly gave me some clarity. My husband is very remorseful and has done everything I’ve asked him to do as far as meeting my need to know and my safety. I can’t punish him more than he’s punishing himself. He’s never been a totally honest man, always the bullshitter and Beverly one to “come clean”, but I believe he is now. It’s been a rough road and there are days I question whether I’m doing the right thing to forgive him and move forward with healing. This really helped me clarify my need to move forward in love. He’s seeing those things I do just because I love him and I see the impact on him. We’ve been married 36 years and we’ve been through periods of growth during that time but his infedelity has really had an impact on our marriage and our family. We’re now talking about issues together more than ever. Again, thank you!

  5. I could never punish my h anymore than he has already punished himself. The OW on the other hand, has done even more damage to herself. What could I really do punish her! Nothing but go on and live my life. She lost way more then I ever did, trust, self respect, happiness just to name a few. But I don't think she was ever really happy or she wouldn't have done the vile things she's done. Last time I saw a picture of her, she looks heavier and unhappy but, that is what she created and that is her punishment and she has to live with it I don't.

  6. Thank you so much for this timely post and reminder. I really, really, need to remind myself that my husband is like yours, Elle. Every time he looks at me, especially when triggering type conversations, tv shows, media stuff happens that spotlights infidelity or prostitution, he is slapped in the face by his choices and he knows, whether I say anything or not, that he caused all of this and that I know what he did. I am grateful that he, so far, is one of those guys who, at 3 years post D-day, has kept his word. (to the best of my knowledge anyway) It has been a challenging week or so with D-day and a few other things surrounding D-day swirling around my head. It has been a deliberate process for me to remind myself that it is not happening now and that I am safe and that I do not need to even think about those images because they disgust me. Last night, after reading this post and as we lay together in bed, I told him that I was grateful that he has kept his promise to me and to himself to walk this path instead of the path he use to walk. He held me and cried and said, "I am so grateful you gave me another chance and I will never hurt you again. I promise to keep you safe and to make you happy that we are still married." I believe him. It is time for me to just stop with those crazy passing thoughts that he has not suffered as much as me but Elle, you hit the nail on the head."Any decent guy will suffer for what he did because he will not let himself off the hook. He has to live with having hurt the one person he promised not to hurt. He has to know that he let down his family, that he revealed himself to be less of a man than his partner believed.
    That's got to hurt." And hurt it does. He has to live with that for the rest of his life. He has to look at the man in the mirror every single day.

    1. Beach Girl - it is so nice to read comments like yours. I am only 2.5 months out from D-Day so I know I have a really long road ahead. But reading comments like yours where your husband looks at you years after D-Day and still shows a genuine, emotional, remorseful response gives me hope. My husband experiences such extreme shame daily from everything he has done and he believes he deserves every ounce of pain he gets. While I don't want him to hurt forever, it does make me feel like I don't need to punish him any more than I already have. Forgiving and working on our marriage ISN'T giving him the easy way out - it's actually the harder route. I am grateful that we are moving forward and that I can see and feel a change in him and that he is grateful for a second chance. Hugs to you!

    2. Beach Girl. This is my husband too. I would say from 12 months to 3 years he really processed what he had done. He stopped making any excuses at all and being defensive. It is hard some days. I do hate what he did to me/us/our family. However when I take a step back what is most sad is what he did to himself. In the end he betrayed himself first and foremost. This is something my husband talks about often how it will be his biggest regret by far, he thinks about it every day and will work every day as hard as possible to be a better person. So far I believe him that the 3 years and 3 months since dday he has been transparent and authentic. I tell him often that I hate that it happened and will never be okay with his decisions however I appreciate that he was honest with me, stayed to work through this together and worked to build a new marriage/relationship. He has told me he thought about leaving me and making something up since every day he hated himself so much and it was so painful for him. I would never do it be I get how that must be a huge burden. I do remember at about 2 years past dday one night he told me he was finally starting to not hate himself. I mean how crazy is that he lived with hating himself and not being able to look in the mirror, living a fake life for 10 years.

      My husband is the same way too. He thanks me daily, tells me how lucky he is etc. I am glad that it still sits with him and is not something he has swept under the rug. When I feel down or get caught up usually in what society says about betrayal or triggers I take a step back and focus on my current reality.

  7. This really hits home for me. In the end it has been the major awareness I have felt that I have zero control over others and only myself. I cannot make anyone do what I want or expect. That is up to them. I can have boundaries, be supportive but in the end it is on them. One other thing that has helped me is that I try to remove the emotions from this. It is really hard but I find I feel better and I am more effective when I use a matter of fact approach. I find this is all really helpful and the same with my kids. Yelling at them and/or punishing them but instead work to explain to them consequences and give them some choices. All a learning experience. Through all of this I have learned and grown so much and I want to put it all to good use and become the best version of me. Whether my husband appreciates that is up to him and I cannot make him feel any certain way especially for the long haul.

  8. It's almost 3 months since the day my H requested for divorce and 1.5 months that i've moved out and stayed alone. He did not have any sign of remorseful and do not want to reconcile either. I do not know if this is due to the excitement/freshness of OW still new...(until today he do not want to admit on this affairs) and re-assured everyone that he is alone or our love already faded...we've been together for 15 years...
    There's no chance for me to consider whether to give him another chance as it seems that i am the only one would like to save this marriage..

    1. Anon 09/21 - I'm so sorry that you are in this place. It's a place none of us ever dreamed of being. I often wonder if it would have been easier to have left 15 months ago when I discovered my H's affair, but in reality there is no "easier" side of this.

      I hated this when people said it to me, yet it has some truth and so I say it - healing comes with time. Know you are NOT alone - you've come to the right spot to find a sisterhood of women who get it.

    2. Anonymous, I am so sorry. There's such pain in your letter. I imagine you feel discarded. Some men get a high off their affair -- it's fresh, it's new. And so THEY feel fresh and new. Everything is possible. Of course, that can't last. And so they cheat again. And again. Until they try and figure out what they're chasing or running away from, they'll never know the joy of a longtime relationship that has weathered storms and grown stronger. And I'm so sorry that you're willing to work through things and he isn't.
      But, as you're discovering, you cannot change another person. What you can do is focus on your own healing. Grieve the loss of your marriage. Grieve the loss of the man you thought he was. I hope you'll find a therapist who can support you as you explore what's next for you, and to help you process of the pain of this. It will not be easy but, Anonymous, it won't hurt like this forever. gentle with yourself. Take care of yourself. And trust that you will get through this.

    3. Hi Elle, thank you so much. At least I know that i am not alone.
      I am still trying hard to adapt to this new life without my H. My feeling is like a roller coaster, i can be OK this moment and turn out to be very sad the next second. This is normal right?
      "Everything is possible" and i am still hoping that my H will awake and we will be able to reconcile on our marriage.

    4. You are most definitely not alone. And yes, the roller coaster is pretty "normal" though it's exhausting. Please PLEASE take care of yourself. Be gentle with yourself.



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