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.
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.