Stories of Adultery

storiesAre the stories that we read, the stories that we tell, the language that is used, an important aspect of understanding adultery?

In short, YES.  Very important.

I was recently referred to a TED talk by Tyler Cowan an American economist via Nephilia’s RageSarcasmVitriol Blog.  He suggests that we become more suspicious of the stories we hear.  It made me start to think about how cautious I might need to be with regard to stories about adultery.  By story it doesn’t have to indicate fiction. It can be any kind of narrative.  Although thinking in terms of stories is a fundamentally human way of developing meaning in our lives they can dangerously over simplify things.  They do this by filtering out a lot of rich messy information and are inclined to narrate the same simple ‘truths’ over and over again.  ‘Once a cheater always a cheater’.  ‘If he loved you, he would not betray you’.  ‘Marriages can survive adultery’.  ‘Once trust is lost it’s never recovered’.  ‘An affair can be the best thing to happen in a marriage’.  ‘Happy people cheat’.

Equally, outsiders can use our love of stories to manipulate our thinking.  We can see this clearly in advertising but I think it works in all contexts.  ‘Life is short so have an affair’.  ‘You’re entitled to be happy’.  ‘There must have been something missing in the marriage’.  ‘There must have been something wrong with you’.  However, adultery is the ultimate mess isn’t it? Maybe we need to realise that it is not possible or desirable to impose any order upon it; we musn’t seek to develop simplistic set patterns which are easy to tell and easy to remember.  Instead maybe adultery needs to be viewed as an incomplete mess and as such we should learn to lean fully into the messy. Try to be more comfortable with messy.

However, the stories that are created be it in books or the media are the stories that shape the dominant discourse and this in turn impacts upon societal norms.  What are some of the acceptable adultery stories?

ADULTERY

Story Line

Acceptable

Not Acceptable

Adultery is natural.  We’ve always had it, always will

Not discovered, remains a secret

Wife in the dark but friends and some family members fully aware

Discovered by Wife

Wife remains in marriage

Adultery can really strengthen a marriage; make it better but keep it hidden

Wife divorces betraying husband

Betraying husband happily moves in with other woman

Betrayed wife remains angry bitter and resentful at what she has been subjected to

Betraying husband grieves for the end of his relationship with other woman

Other Woman mourns the loss of her married boyfriend

Other Woman and facilitating others take responsibility for their role in the adultery

Children will be hurt terribly by their parent’s adultery

Being an adulterous husband does not affect being a loving father

Everyone is entitled to pursue what makes them happy

There was something missing in the marriage, something wrong.

Happily married people cheat

I was particularly interested in a comment that Cowan made with regards to what the messages might be that nobody wants to tell.  What are the stories about adultery that nobody wants to tell?  It’s the stories that narrate the pain, devastation and destruction caused.  For example, Ashley Madison’s story doesn’t say betrayal is good or that family breakup is fun or that women might be exploited by the system but equally it doesn’t mention that betrayal will kill your wife’s soul by a thousand cuts.  Their message is discretion so that these nasty truths can be dismissed easily. But Ashley Madison are not a lone voice; I believe that the dominant discourse is one of total acceptance of adultery!  It is a shocking reflection of the values that shape our society.  Adultery has always occurred and therefore will always occur.  Didn’t we once think this about slavery?  Didn’t we once think it was OK to send small children up chimneys?   Once upon a time wasn’t rape viewed legal in marriage?  So, it is possible to change behaviour or at least to send out a different message.  Adultery causes carnage for everyone involved. It is a slimy can of worms.  Long term relationships are different to short term ones and need to be worked on.  Monogamy doesn’t just happen –  it has to be created. If we value fidelity then our actions need to reflect this.

In keeping with creating stories but moving to a more linguistic understanding, George Lakoff, an American cognitive linguist argues that an individual’s experience and attitude towards socio-political issues is influenced by being framed in linguistic constructions. These frames could be thought of as stories.  For Lakoff, the words we read, and the words we use work cognitively to frame our understanding of adultery.  Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world.

  As a result, they shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome.

I am drawn to this idea because a) I have increasingly started to view adultery as a socio-political issue and b) I want to begin to identify the frames that are being underpinned so that I might begin to see whose interests are being best served by the dominant narratives.

‘Life’s short, have an affair’ – Ashley Madison one of the online dating sites marketed to people who are already in a relationship. {Frame – Everyone is entitled to pursue what makes them happy}

‘Stabs at infidelity are none of our beeswax’The Ney York Times  {Frame – Not discovered by wife but friends and some family fully aware}

‘My husband’s affair was the best thing that ever happened to me’ Anne Bercht  {Frame – Adultery can really strengthen a marriage; make it better but keep it hidden}

‘If anyone had asked her, she would have said that she was certain her husband had never been unfaithful.  It wasn’t like Jack, that wasn’t him at all’. Anita Shreve, The Pilot’s Wife {Frame – Happily married people cheat}

‘Sooner or later, some mistresses feel so loved that they begin to think of the wife as the other woman’ – blog entry written by ‘Lady Mistress’ which outlines the etiquette required to be a mistress. {Frame – Other Woman and facilitating others take responsibility for their role in the adultery}

‘The drama of adultery is the melodrama of being found out, uncovered, exposed’. New Yorker  {Frame – Not discovered, remains a secret}

‘Her role has changed dramatically,’ explains royal biographer Penny Junor. ‘One minute she was a mistress and then she was an HRH’. {Frame Betraying husband happily moves in with other woman}

‘Infants have their infancy; adults, adultery’. David Philip Barash {Frame Adultery is natural.  We’ve always had it, always wil

Lakoff sums up the importance of using the right words:

Framing, is about getting language that fits your worldview.  It is not just language.  The ideas are primary – and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas.

Really, we have to be cognisant about how the phenomenom of adultery is communicated and unfortunately, for most of us here in the betrayed spouses’ blogosphere we are trapped by the current framing of adultery as something for the betrayed wife to be ashamed of.  Staying is the new shame.  This in effect silences us from expanding upon the frame of adultery and adding to the dominant discourse.

Life’s short have an affair and similar cavalier statements frame adultery in a very defined and narrow way. The language used frames adultery in a way that sounds harmless. But, would knowledge about the miserable outcomes of adultery be enough to change peoples’ behaviour?  Unfortunately it’s not that easy!  It is a myth, according to Lakoff that if we just tell people the facts, they’ll all reach the right conclusion.  To be accepted, the truth must fit people’s frames.  “If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off!   Difficult!

Another myth is that rational people will not act against their own interests.  They do! They act their identity, their values and they act with who they can identify with.   I wouldn’t hurt my wife.  I will never leave my wife.  What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Having an affair gives me the attention and affection I need and the OW makes me feel good about myself.  I can control what happens.  It’s what men do.  It’s just sex, it doesn’t mean anything.

So, how can adultery be reframed?  How can the dialogue, the language used be manipulated in a way that more honestly reflects and frames the reality and human carnage of acts of infidelity.

Lakoff suggests that the right use of language starts with an idea.  If you don’t have the language you don’t have the idea, the right framing of the issues.  Once the frame is identified the words will flow.

How might a new framing of adultery be created?

Image Credits: Bangkok Thailand – August 7 Hanuman Brothers One Part Of Praram by khunaspix via freedigitalphotos.net

Marriage After Adultery

kintsugiWhat does it look like?

Very Different? Slightly Different? The Same? Better? Worse?

I’m afraid I find this an extremely difficult question because even after three years since D-day, I still struggle with the perception I have of my marriage following my husband’s adultery.  For some time now I have held on to the Japanese idea of ‘kintsugi’; a way of repairing pottery with gold so that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.  Mending a broken object with gold actually aggrandises the damage and therefore, because it has suffered damage, it has a history and becomes more beautiful. I have imagined that the emotional work that my husband and I have been doing is our ‘golden joinery’ on our broken marriage and in fact blogged about it some time back. Turning an ugly affair into a beautiful repared marriage

We have worked at remembering our good memories before the Pig Shit times and really, these memories were part of the reason I agreed to remain in the marriage.  I felt that if we had been so remarkably happy before the adultery there was reason enough to believe that we might be happy in the future.  Equally, we have concentrated on creating fresh new memories to treasure and have lots of framed photographs around our house to remind us of this endeavour.  It’s like we have picked up all the broken pieces of our marriage and are using memories of our happy past with our new life together as the gold with which to mend what his adultery with Pig Shit shattered.  The only thing is – because I find the adultery such a wretched experience and remain disgusted with all its sordid aspects – I don’t feel that we have reached kintsugi.  It’s like there is something slimy stopping the gold from setting. Maybe it just takes more time?

However, after listening to Esther Perel give her TED talk on rethinking infidelity I have started to wonder if I should look at my marriage with a different perspective.  She suggests that most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages and that some of us are going to do this with the same person!  What this would mean is that my first marriage with my husband is over and what we are now creating is a new one.  Would this be an easier perspective I wonder? A total break from our past relationship?

I find myself, as always, returning to writers I respect to see if I can construct deeper meanings for heart bookmyself.  I turned this time to Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her beautiful book entitled ‘Gifts From The Sea’.  An interesting little collection of reflective essays she muses about life and love and being a woman.  This time I’m older and am reading the book unfortunately as a woman who has experienced the ultimate betrayal of infidelity.  Wonderfully, I find fresh treasures to ponder upon.     I don’t think that what she says contradicts Perel in any way; I think it expands and compliments her in many ways.  Fundamentally, Lindbergh is reflecting on the process of change but I see this as hugely pertinent to understanding my marriage post adultery because the act irrevocably changed me, my husband and our marriage.

All living relationships are in process of change, of expansion, and must perpetually be building themselves new forms. But there is no single fixed form to express such a changing relationship.

But do our ideas and expectations of  marriage manage to circumvent this truth? Do we expect change to arrive in packages that we can handle? Do we mistakenly look to give shape to something that cannot be shaped?

But surely we DO demand duration and continuity of relationships, at least of marriage.  That is what marriage is, isn’t it – continuity of a relationship? Of course, but not necessarily continuity in one single form or stage.

What offered me comfort in her words was her description of marriage.  This has helped me in recognising the distinction and absolute void between what my husband and I possessed/possess as a couple in stark contrast to what he and Pig Shit shared.  Whilst they had their sordid meet’n shag fests the bonds of our marriage remained in place and now continue to hold us together through these turbulent times.

For marriage, which is always spoken of as a bond, is actually,  many bonds, many strands, of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taught and firm.  The web is fashioned of love.  Yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow-growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship. It is made of loyalties, and interdependencies, and shared experiences.  It is woven of memories of meetings and conflicts; of triumphs and disappointments.  It is a web of communication, a common language, and the acceptance of lack of language too; a knowledge of likes and dislikes, of habits and reactions, both physical and mental.  It is a web of instincts and intuitions, and known and unknown exchanges.  The web of marriage is made by propinquity, in the day to day living side by side, looking outward and working outward in the same direction.  It is woven in space and in time of the substance of life itself.

However, she goes on in a later essay to consider change and the contradictions that it throws up in committed relationships.  The clue for her in thinking about the problem of relationships is the image of a pendulum swinging.  That relationships have an eternal ebb and flow; an inevitable intermittency.

The veritable life of our emotions and our relationships is intermittent.  When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment.  It is an impossibility.  It is even a lie to pretend to.  And yet this is exactly what most of us demand.  We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships.  We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb.  We are afraid it will never return.  We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom.  Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.

I can see that the image of my new marriage (post-adultery) is still being formed and this gives me hope.  There is a dynamic going on between us.  As Perel says, some affairs are death knells for marriages dying on the vine but for some marriages it is a jolt into new possibilities.  My husband’s adultery has redefined our relationship but it will be our actions that determine the legacy of it.

gestaltPerhaps I need to try to adopt Perel’s dual perspective on infidelity: in one view, the hurt and betrayal; and in the other, growth and self-discovery.  And, hopefully unlike the gestalt image of the faces or the vase, I will be able to contain both perspectives simultaneously and live in my relationship as it is now.

Maybe, when all is said and done,  is this all just about love?  Is what my husband and I are experiencing  just a messy dimension of love when taken off of its romanticised, westernised, media inspired  pedestal?  I recall Rilke:

Love is a curious mixture of virtuosity and incapacity.  On the one hand the most exquisite skill, on the other, everlasting frustration.  There is no beauty in Eros.

Image credit: heartbook by duron123 via freedigitalphotos.net

Coping With Betrayal: My Secret Life

secret lifeThe heart-breaking experience of my husband’s adultery is very much – in the words of the legendary Leonard Cohen – ‘In My Secret Life’.

It is there all/most of the time and nobody apart from you is aware of it. Even husband would be surprised at the extent of my secret life. The ruminations, the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of my distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, travel relentlessly up and down the ever diminishing corridors of my brain.  I need comfort from this.  What can I do but write?

Martha Nussbaum an American philosopher offers two pieces of general advice.  Firstly, do not despise your inner world and secondly, read a lot of stories and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. She suggests that this will prevent me from being alone with an empty self as I will have a newly rich life with myself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.

Well, I can certainly say that reading other betrayed wives’ blogs has been an enormous comfort with real communication. Thank you.  I have also read hundreds (literally) of the self-help type of books offering advice about coping with adultery, the most valuable from those who have experienced it, and countless therapists’ accounts of what the concept of adultery means. The late Frank Pitman is one of my personal favourites; the comfort being I think we share the same views about adultery.  “From the outside looking in, it is insane. How could anyone risk everything in life on the turn of a screw?”  However, the fictional books have not been so many.  So I was surprised to find a novel about adultery and betrayal that I couldn’t put down.   As the married characters, Kathryn and Jack, work their way through the novel’s plot the author creates a language with which to talk about the inner world of betrayal.  I’d like to share some of that language here.

When the husband first begins to show the symptoms so familiar of adultery…

 Jack had seemed to withdraw ever so slightly from Kathryn.  Nothing she could point to or articulate exactly.  In every marriage, she had always thought, a couple created its own drama.  But if one partner then slightly altered his role or tried to eliminate some of his lines, the play didn’t track quite as well as it once had.  The other actor, not yet aware that the play had changed, sometimes lost his lines or swallowed them or became confused by the different choreography.

She shudders.  But she can’t leave it alone.  For months now, Jack has been distant, as though not altogether there, as though constantly preoccupied.  Preoccupation can be tolerated, Katherine thinks, if it is finite.

The arguments, possibly engineered by the cheating husband that leave the betrayed confused and lost…

 She examines his profile, his face, which she loves.  She wants to give in, to go to him and say she is sorry, to put her arms around him and tell him she loves him.  But before she can move, she thinks again about the sensation of being abandoned, for that is what she means to describe, and so repentance quickly gives way to grievance.  Why should she back off?  “You never talk to me anymore”, she says.  “I feel like I don’t know you anymore”.  “You want me to go?” he asks, looking at her”

As the truth of adultery starts to leak…

 “Where was he?” Kathryn asked quietly.  How quickly a person could ask a question she didn’t want the answer to, Kathryn thought, and not for the first time.

Her mind felt pushed, compressed.  If Jack hadn’t slept in the crew apartment, where had he been?  She shut her eyes, not wanting to think about it.  If anyone had asked her, she would have said that she was certain her husband had never been unfaithful.  It wasn’t like Jack, that wasn’t him at all.

Whilst the cheating husband is away on business and the telephone communications…

 “Jack do you still love me?” For a moment he is silent.  “Why do you ask?” “I don’t know” she says – I guess I haven’t heard you say it in a while.” “Of course I love you” he says.  He clears his throat.  “I really love you.  Now go to sleep.  I’ll call at seven”  Neither hang up the telephone.  He asks “What’s wrong”.  She doesn’t know precisely what is wrong. She has only a vague feeling of vulnerability, a heightened sense of having been left alone for too many days.

The memories that filter up into your head and catch you unawares…

 She shook her head quickly, side to side.  She held herself still, locked in an image, not daring to move either forward or backward for fear of the crevices.  She breathed in deeply, let her breath out, laid her arms on the table.  She says her life is filled with hundreds of little memories that catch her off guard. Like mines in a field, waiting to detonate.  Honestly, she’d like to have a lobotomy.

Actually meeting the OW…

 The features of the woman impressed themselves upon Kathryn’s consciousness, like acid eating away at a photographic plate.  A thousand questions competed for Kathryn’s attention.  When? For how long? How was it done? Why?

Then when the reality becomes apparent and the timelines have to be reconsidered…

 How, Kathryn wondered, had Jack possibly managed it?  The lies, the deception, the lack of sleep?  How had Jack been able to face her when he came home?  Had he made love to Kathryn that night, the next night, that week?  She shuddered to think of it.  The questions bounced with tiny pings from wall to wall, repeating themselves endlessly.  Then she remembered, her stomach lurching, the twice yearly training sessions in London.  Two weeks each. If you never suspected someone, she realised, you never thought to suspect.

A perspective from the OW…

 It was worse for me she said and Kathryn turned, drawn by the slightly plaintive note, a rent in the cool façade.  “I knew about you”, the OW said.  “You never knew about me”.

The realisation of the invasion of your marriage…

 As she drove, certain memories pricked at her, nagged at her, and she knew it might be months or years before they stopped and she could feel her blood pressure rising in the car.  The fight, she remembered suddenly, that horrible fight for which she’d blamed herself.  The gall of him, she thought now, letting her believe her own inadequacies had been the cause, when all along he was having an affair with another woman.

Had Jack relaxed his vigilance and allowed bits of his relationship with the OW to seep into his marriage with Kathryn? Had Kathryn’s life been invaded in ways she’s never noticed? How much of the OW’s life had leached into her own?

The personal realisation that this all goes on under your nose…

 She wondered why she had never imagined an affair.  How could a woman live with a man all that time and never suspect?  It seemed at the very least, a monumental act of naiveté, of oblivion.  But then she thought she knew the answer even as she asked the question: A dedicated adulterer causes no suspicion, she realised, because he truly does not want to be caught.

Kathryn had never thought to suspect; she’s never smelled a trace of another woman, never found a smear of lipstick on the shoulder of a shirt.  Even sexually, she’d never guessed.

The continuous shape-shifting narrative of adultery…

 The more Kathryn learned about Jack, the more she would have to rethink the past.  As if having to tell a story over and over, each time a little differently because a fact had changed, a detail had altered.  And if enough details were altered, or the facts were important enough, perhaps the story veered in a direction very different from its first telling.

The living with the constant triggers…

 It was one of hundreds of triggers, small moments.  She had these moments often.  Even a glass of beer could trigger a splintery recollection.  She has learned to live with them, like learning to live with a tick or a stutter or a bad knee that occasionally sent a jolt of pain through the body.

The futile but constant search for the reasons why it happened…

 She thought it might be easier to bear if she could say that it had been his mother’s leaving him when he was a boy, or his father’s brutality.  Or that it had been the influence of a priest, or the Vietnam War, or middle age, or boredom with the airline.  Or a desire to share risk with a woman he loved.  But she knew it might be all of those reasons or none of them.  Jack’s motivation, which would always remain unknown to Kathryn, was made up of bits of all his motivations, a baffling mosaic.

The book was ‘The Pilots Wife’ (1999) and it was written by Anita Shreve.pilots wife

Single Woman, Married Man!

betrayalWhat sort of relationship did Pig Shit, a single woman have with my husband, a married man?

I know that they met for sex.  I know that he told her that he was planning on leaving me.  I know that he said he loved her but he told me that he said this just to keep her sweet!  I know that he found it easy to dump her.  I know that he didn’t see her that often and used texts and phone calls to keep in touch.  I know that she was always asking to see him more.  I know that she got really angry when he and I went on holiday.  But what was it really like for Pig Shit?  I can’t imagine it being a particularly rewarding or self-affirming experience.   However, she’s not on her own, there’s lots of this going on.  Richard Tuch suggests that the behaviours involved in single woman, married man relationships are so recognisable and predictable that they constitute a genuine syndrome.

“She struggles with the feeling that she is being neglected, but she feels her hands are tied.  Were she to complain too loudly about how neglected she feels, the single woman fears that the married man would quickly tire of her as he had of his wife… He fears that were he to break off the affair, she would retaliate… telling the wife about the affair is number one on her list.”

You don’t have to dig too deep into adulterous relationships to find the shitty core that is hidden or disguised by initial novel sexual activities, lies and secrets.  The relationship stinks.  The betrayed spouse might be able to smell the rotten decay slowly permeating her marriage but at least she’s not generating it or having to facilitate it.  The single woman who signs up for the stinking relationship does this.  Doesn’t the single woman balk at the thought of what she will need to do in order to keep her married man happy?  It’s not just being available for sex when he wants it is it? How does this compare to a relationship with an available man and what in the relationship can ever honestly be perceived as genuine love?

By chance I came across a 2007 blog entry written by ‘Lady Mistress’ which outlines the etiquette required to be a mistress.  I was about to click off the site but curiosity got the better of me.  What I read just confirmed my opinion really.  Women who seek an intimate relationship with a man who is married are either desperate or psychopathological or a bit of both.

One reason my husband gave for getting off with Pig Shit was that she was sexually very easy. He didn’t have to chase her or try hard.  From the first meeting she was eager to have sex with him whenever he was able to get an evening away from me, his wife. In truth, this actually wasn’t very often.  12 meet ‘n shags in twelve months.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so fucking sad.  After a few months from when the adultery first started and I had noticed a distancing from him – I asked him if there was someone else.  He looked at me and said “How could there be anyone else, I’m always here”.  This would get me every time.  Of course there couldn’t be anyone else could there?   A woman would want so much more wouldn’t she?  I came to the conclusion that it could not be a love affair of any kind and instead concluded that it must be a series of one night stands.  Obviously, this was me projecting my values on to another woman.

I remain deeply perplexed that a woman could settle for so little and yet have the expectation of so much.  My husband told Pig Shit that he and I did not get on any more.  So this made it OK for her I guess.  Just a matter of time before he and she would become a ‘proper’ relationship. So why didn’t he leave me then?  Why didn’t he tell me about her and his ‘plans’ to leave me for her?  Why was she content to be a secret but only until he dumped her?  It was only after he dumped her that she wanted me to know ALL ABOUT HER AND HIM.  Why?  Surely, it would have been better for her to tell me about herself whilst my husband was shagging her.  If my husband and I didn’t get on any more what reasons did he give for staying with me that made her agree to continue to be his mistress?

Reading the mistress etiquette rules made me realise even more what an utter mess Pig Shit must be.  What type of sincere, lasting relationship can be expected from such ridiculous and flimsy foundations?  Allow me, if you will, to share some of the etiquette tips suggested for mistresses: lady mistress

  • You are a mistress NOT a Mrs. Know you place. You are #2 not #1. (I could not knowingly accept this EVER)
  • Even if he tells you he loves you more than his wife, don’t let that go to your head. As a rule, he is lying. (I would have thought this obvious – if he is still with his wife, durgh!)
  • Mistresses should be ready to give up Valentine’s Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Holy Days and his birthday. Mistresses are also called “holiday orphans.” (This would make me feel very sad and neglected. Also suspicious.  Why would the husband want to spend Valentines day with the wife he doesn’t get on with and who he is planning to leave?)
  • Don’t call him, wait for him to call you. (but what if you had something really important to say or needed some token of affection? What if you didn’t feel well? What if you just wanted to share something?  You just have to wait??????  And this makes you feel good?)
  • Love is lovelier when it’s forbidden. Because it’s forbidden it’s supposed to be hidden. (For how long?  If he doesn’t want to be with his wife why does it need to be forbidden? What do I tell my family, my friends?  Am I OK with saying I’m going out with a married man?)
  • Never believe, and never say anything unfriendly about his wife, not even after he recites a litany of her faults. (But the wife is the competition.  Surely some things can be said in order for the married man to know that I am the better woman for him?)
  • Sooner or later, some mistresses feel so loved that they begin to think of the wife as the other woman. (Yes, I think this delusion is common)
  • When he breaks a date, charge it to fate, not his fecklessness. (Naturally, the wife has to be his priority but soon he will leave her won’t he, so that’s OK)
  • Mistresses don’t complain. They shouldn’t. It’s the wives, according to their husbands, who are always complaining. (Husband told me that Pig Shit never complained when they were together, only occasionally over the phone when asking to see more of him or when he told her over the phone that he was going on holiday with me)
  • Being No.2, the mistress tries harder. (I suppose the bag of dildos, sex toys and Ann Summers body stocking addresses this? Plus the multiple organisms – fake or real?)
  • What does your man do after sex with you his mistress? Go home to his wife. (Of course.  And every evening he is with his wife often doing nothing together which is exactly what Pig Shit was desperate for)
  • Don’t use tears as a weapon. He’s probably had enough of that from the Mrs. Wives nag. Wives cry. If only for that reason, a mistress doesn’t use tears to get what she wants. (So do other strategies have to be employed to get your own way?)
  • Resist the urge to be found out. For every action, the laws of nature decree an equal and opposite reaction.
  • Perish all thought that someday you’ll be No. 1.
  • Married men who keep mistresses don’t like surprises, as a rule.
  • A man with a mistress leads a double life, his mistress only half life. Cheer up! A career will make you whole.
  • Resist the urge to shower him with gifts. Evidence, evidence…!
  • When in doubt, disappear.

In truth, I can only see this as an abusive relationship. How did Pig Shit think otherwise?  My husband was her second married man.  A relationship with a married man is so different isn’t it from a single man.  Can a woman who has signed up for such an adulterous relationship ever then have a normal relationship?  Would she know how to behave?  The rules of engagement in a normal relationship are so very different.

Pig Shit is 53 years of age.  Twice married.  Twice divorced.  Conducting sexual relationships against the backdrop canvass of two teenagers from her second marriage.  Two relationships with married men; the first lasted three years and he had a key to her house so that he could come and go freely, the second, with my husband lasted one year.  She also had a long term relationship with a man who ran off with her best friend.  There’s probably a lot more.  This is what I know from what my husband told me. But it is a mess of relationships isn’t it?  Desperate divorce detritus. There’s nothing to envy here.  What woman in her right mind would want her life to look like this?

Image Credit: Love Triangle by marin via freedigitalphotos.net

Anger and Letting Go of Adultery

Is it possible to view anger positively?

Is letting go an essential aim in the healing process?

angerContinuing my quest for a fuller  understanding of adultery and looking at sources not directly related to the issue I have found two, totally unrelated books, that have enhanced my perceptions with regards to anger and to the notion of ‘letting-go’. When first confronted with the reality of my husband’s adultery I raged like I have never raged before.  I became like one of the Furies in Greek mythology; a female spirit of justice and vengeance. They were also called the Erinyes (angry ones). They punished their victims by driving them mad.

Although far less angry than I was (it has been almost three years since D-day) my memories of my anger remain with me and I won’t forget how they threatened to engulf me.  Equally, the anger has not gone away, it remains a burning ember.  The metaphor is apt.  Burning embers can glow very hot, sometimes as hot as the fire which created them. They radiate a substantial amount of heat long after the fire has been extinguished, and if not taken care of properly can rekindle a fire that is thought to be completely extinguished and can pose a fire hazard.  Being told to ‘let go’ can re-ignite the anger!

Although it is nearly three years since the discovery I have not been able to let ‘it’ go, although let goincreasingly I am becoming confused as to what ‘it’ actually is and what letting ‘it’ go might actually mean.  I remain deeply troubled that someone I loved and trusted could betray me, cheat and lie.  I am troubled that his adultery was normalised by ‘friends’. I am troubled by how women treat other women so cavalierly. I am troubled by how the trauma and tragedy that is a direct consequence of adultery is swept under society’s carpet. I am troubled by the web sites of the Ashley Madison kind.

If letting go is forgiving and forgetting then I resign myself to a life of holding on.  The best I have achieved is acceptance and in order to affect this I have needed to firstly bring it all in.  Bring in every nasty detail of his actions. Make a diary of the events and align then to my journal of that time.  Gather pictures of Pig Shit, find out about her sorry life.  Go to the depths of my own emotional barrel and examine my deep rooted insecurities.  Read and read and read and then read some more about adultery and infidelity and betrayal. Go on to the internet and find the experiential stories of other people’s adultery.  Share the trauma and pain.  Contribute to the kaleidoscope of fear, anger, hurt and hope.    Learn to recognise what my body does when I think about the shitty mess that my marriage became.  Maybe, one day in the future I will have this sense of letting go BUT maybe it can only be let go of when the time is right.

“There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.”  Terry Pratchett

Interestingly I have reconciled my anger and letting go (or not letting go) by putting together two quite separate ideas.  One is the idea proposed in the book ‘The Anger Habit’ by Carl Semmelroth and Donald Smith who suggest that anger is a kind of insanity in everyday life, with the hallmark being loss of self-control.  “Most of what is commonly seen and labelled as anger (aggressive tigerlanguage and overt attacks), as well as most of what is experienced as anger (angry thoughts), are really habitual behaviours.”  If, as they suggest, anger is a habit then it is something that I can have control over.  But this is rather contrary to our common assumptions of anger which considers anger as a force that drives our behaviour and dangerously builds up if not released.   “The resulting manoeuvres which aim at countering, deflecting, and releasing anger… wreak havoc on people’s lives.” This view of anger suggests that angry behaviour is involuntary and results in a chronic struggle among people and/or within people over their behaviours and feelings.

This book suggests an alternative view.  Instead of thinking of anger as a force they consider it to be information.  The feeling of anger tells us information about our self and the world around us.  It is aninfo indication that we are making a transition from distress to attack.  It is this transition that they label the anger habit and it is something that we have learned and practiced over our lifetime.  However, if we recognise the gap between distress and attack we are in a position to control our response.  We have the opportunity to choose our behaviour, whether to attack or to consider other solutions.  In order to have other solutions to consider we need the appropriate information to make that deision.

“It may be strange to think about your own anger as a warning signal about what you are about to do.  But seeing anger in this way is the first step to preventing anger as a habit. It is our blindness to angry feelings as information that makes it so easy for us to view anger as out of our control”.

Whilst reading this book I became aware that their antidote to the anger habit is something that I have been unconsciously applying whilst dealing with my feelings of anger around my husband’s adultery.  The antidote is quite simple: seek information in order to make more informed, better choices!  For me, when I first discovered the adultery my anger turned my distress into attack.  On many occasions I felt totally out of control.  However, over the years I have done a lot of work whilst my husband has done all that he has needed to do in order to manifest his renewed commitment to our marriage.   My work has addressed two issues; understanding the universal concept of adultery, and examining my feelings of self-worth.  It helps to know that I am not on my own, that I am not insane and that you don’t have to be in an unhappy marriage for adultery to occur.  It helps to know that being the OW is a wretched business no matter what ribbons and bows might be attached to the idea.  It helps to know that many people deeply regret their adultery.  It helps to know that his adultery had nothing to do with me or our marriage but was rooted in his emotional immaturity and lack of personal boundaries.

I still feel angry, of course, but I do not blindly attack any more and I am aware of the need to take care so that the embers do not ignite.  Having accumulated all this information on adultery I feel quite an authority and this helps when listening to others whose views are not compatible with mine.  It has given me a quiet confidence.  But this has not been easy.  I have travelled down some very dark alleyways and have not always been sure that I’d find my way home.  I think adultery cuts you to your core in a way that you’d never expect, and facing this despair has been life changing for me.  I have reflected upon what might be deemed to be my obsession with adultery but after reading the second of my books, Gillian Rose’s book ‘Love’s Work’ I am able to better understand the method that may lie in my madness.

hellActually, it was my second reading of Rose’s book. The first reading was in 1996.  Reading it in 2015 in my current personal context the book offered so much more.  The theme that runs through her book is “Keep your mind in hell, and despair not” a phrase attributed to Staretz Silouan, an Eastern Orthodox monk of Russian origin. The book offers an autobiographic and philosophical perspective on life and love, and knowing that she wrote it with the cancer that would eventually kill her at the age of 48 adds a melancholy to her erudite and scholarly work.

For Gillian Rose, denial and unexamined suffering are the two main reasons for unhappiness.  “It is the unhappiness of one who refuses to dwell in hell and who lives, therefore, in the most static despair”. There is no letting go of emotional stuff here.  Instead it is a full embrace of that which threatens to annihilate us.

“When something untoward happens, some trauma or damage, whether inflicted by the commissions or omissions of others, or some cosmic force, one makes the initially unwelcome event one’s own inner occupation.  You work to adopt the most loveless, forlorn, aggressive child as your own, and do not leave her to develop into an even more vengeful monster, who constantly wishes you ill.  In ill-health as in unhappy love, this is the hardest work: it requires taking in before letting be”.

You see, she has summed it up for me.  I have made my experience of my husband’s adultery my own inner occupation and made it my adopted aggressive child, preventing it from becoming a bigger, more frightful monster in my head.  This activity has created an accumulation of knowledge and understanding of adultery which has offered me a sense of grace and turned my personal into a universal experience.  This in turn has provided me with what Semmelroth would describe as an antidote to my anger habit.   However, whilst I keep my mind in hell I am aware that I want to remain a good human being and to be this I have to accept my continuous vulnerability.  This will never go away.

“To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.” Martha Nussbaum

Image Credits: Angry Calendar by Stuart Miles; Hand With Butterfly by Salvatore Vuono; Dangerous Angry Leopard Tiger by khunaspix; Shattered Face by hyena reality; all via freedigitalphotos.net

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The other woman’s hatred for the wife

can of wormsAdultery’s Can of Worms 

I can think of no better way to describe my experience of adultery than of opening a can of slimy worms and having to live with them.  My advice to anyone who has yet to have had the bad fortune of adultery in their lives is NOT to venture near this can and certainly NOT to open it.  If you do, you’re gonna regret it, so you better forget it!!!!  Trust me.

You see, it’s not just my idiot husband’s behaviour that is in this can.  It’s also the skank of the other woman and all the other individuals who conspired with their adulterous behaviour.  It is also all the issues that the experience dregs up from the bottom of the emotional barrel for me.  It is also the societal  values that I seem to notice more and more which  romanticises adultery at the expense of the pain incurred by everyone.  It is also about how women behave to other women and whether I am wrong to expect more from my own gender.

I do not condone any woman who willingly has an intimate relationship with a man she knows to be married.  I don’t condone it but over the last few years I have explored the motives.  Basically it is either utter selfishness or utter desperation or a mixture of both.  If a woman hasshadows no concerns about the impact of her behaviour on another woman and her children then she will happily behave in a way that hurts another.  Whether this in itself gives her some form of joy I wouldn’t like to guess.  Whatever it is, it’s an aggressive form of behaviour.  Equally, if a woman has no life of her own to speak of and desperately wants a man in her life then maybe once a month or whenever, a bit of sex dressed up as love and intimacy is better than nothing at all.  Better than the lonely feeling of being on the shelf, undesirable and  untaken.  Does her cruel behaviour stem from envy of those women who do have a partner, who have what she feels she deserves.   Envy and aggression are not often linked directly to female behaviour  because I suspect it is because they are hugely undesirable traits for a woman to have.  There’s probably a lot of denial going on.

Whilst the behaviour of the other woman might be well documented in various places, I have sought a more comprehensive understanding of difficult and shameful female to female relationships.  This is because as well as exploring Pig Shit’s behaviour towards my husband and towards me, I have been trying to come to terms with the behaviour of a woman who I thought was a friend, of sorts.  This woman (Reptile) was the girlfriend of one of my husband’s old school chums (Dork).  We saw each other at couple’s events and actually went on holiday together as a foursome, travelling around France.  I had no reason to believe that she did not like me in any way and I had no reason to think that I might have offended her in any way.  She always seemed most pleasant.  However, it was she who introduced her friend Pig Shit to my husband on a night when I was at home in London.  After drinks in a bar they all went back to Reptile and Dork’s house.  When my husband left he tells me that Pig Shit followed him to the door and they had a snogging session.  (classy eh?)

Now, what was the Reptile’s response to this?  (I probably need to point out here that both Pig Shit and Reptile had a husband betray them and leave them for another woman) Did she tell her friend not to go there because he was married and it might all end up a terrible mess?  Clearly not!  Instead she and her boyfriend ‘normalised’ the adultery in a most perverse manner.  They not only actively encouraged it, they facilitated it by allowing them both to stay overnight and shag in their spare room.  I now know that there were times when I sat talking to Reptile, being nice to her and socialising, when she had the knowledge that my husband was shagging her friend.  Did she enjoy this?  Why did she choose to stab me in the back in such a manner?  She could have made her excuses and not come along, but then she would not have been able to gloat.

The irony of all this is that whilst the Reptile and Dork were encouraging and facilitating the weddingadultery of my husband with Pig Shit they were making arrangements for their own wedding!!!  Surely, this must make bad karma for their marriage. I had made a grand fuss when I found out about the proposal, squealing with delight and wanting to know how it all occurred.  The thought of my enthusiastic response now makes me feel sick.

On one occasion, we were at a restaurant and an announcement was made that my husband was to be their best man.  This was not done quietly.  Dork did not approach my husband and ask if it would be possible bearing in mind his two timing situation.  No, in the middle of the evening, Reptile stood up with Dork and announced their plan.  I applauded the idea and was very happy for everyone.  When I look back now, I wonder what she was thinking.  Was she expecting my husband to take me to the wedding and have Pig Shit there as well?  Was she hoping that my husband and I would have separated? Was it all a cruel game? The thought just horrifies me.  Husband says that he could feel the noose tightening and was going to arrange for us to be on holiday as soon as he knew what date was going to be set for the marriage.  Further lies and deceit to hide the mess he’d gotten himself into.

When my husband chose to dump Pig Shit the Reptile gave her my mobile telephone number so that she could inform me of their adultery.  I also know that a couple of days were spent trying to find out from others where my husband was.  Dork was not involved in this but the Reptile was.  I suspect that she was the one who wanted me to know exactly what had been going on in the hope that I would not stay with him. I felt that there was a panic between my husband dumping her and the text two days later to spill the beans.  It was as if they were terrified that he was going to remain with me. I get a sense that Reptile was very instrumental in the adultery and later disclosure.  Clearly she wanted me to know that my husband had been unfaithful. She was not prepared to act as if nothing had happened once my husband dumped Pig Shit.  She could play nice when she knew I was being silently betrayed but could not play nice if it meant that my husband and I were to carry on ‘as normal’.

Once the truth came out and the shit hit the fan my husband severed all contact not only with Pig Shit but with Dork as well.  As he is part of a big group of old school chums all the blokes in this group have been wiped out of our joint lives.  Two of them were happy to sit and have drinks with my husband and Pig Shit, Dork and Reptile, further normalising their behaviour.  The rest of them probably knew but did not have any involvement.  They are collateral damage.  I never want to see the Reptile again as long as I live.  Now she has to live with the consequence of her choices.

What makes women so hostile to other women?  Why is it done so secretly and spitefully?  Is there not enough misogyny in our world for women to try to behave better to each other?

I think some of these answers need a very deep analysis.  Phyllis Chester an American writer, psychotherapist, and professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island wrote a book in 2001 entitled ‘Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman’.  It’s a troubling book but it raises a lot of uncomfortable issues that I think we as women need to consider.  She makes a number of interesting observations.  Firstly, we need to realise that women are sexist. We have “internalised the prevailing misogynistic ideology which we uphold both in order to survive and in order to improve our own individual positions vis-à-vis all other women”.

Secondly women can be aggressive.  Whereas men are often openly aggressive in direct and dramatic ways, women are seldom physically violent, instead they act indirectly and the targets of their aggression are not men but other women and children.  Indirect aggression is aggressionanonymous aggression.  Girls learn from a young age that a safe way to attack someone else is behind her back, so that she will not know who is responsible.  However, aggression in females is a taboo subject and often suppressed by being systematically ignored.  Labelled as irrational, hysterical or bitchy.  Girls also view aggression more negatively than boys do and so tend to deny it even to themselves.  But the danger is that if girls are trained to say that aggression is wrong even whilst continuing to be aggressive then they may be learning to disassociate themselves from their negative behaviour.  This capacity might prove resistant to the acknowledgement that is required before recognition and change can occur.  If a woman pretends to herself that she is kind to other women when she is not, she will have no reason to learn how to resist her aggressive  inclinations.

Pleasingly Chesler reports that most women do not hate women; only some do.  “The data indicate that women who are hostile toward other women don’t feel good about themselves.  They have lower personal self-esteem, optimism, sense of self-efficacy, life satisfaction, and higher objectified body consciousness compared to women who are not hostile to other women.” Sums up most Other Women, no?

Thirdly we need to acknowledge all aspects of female behaviour.  The book argues that we must free ourselves from the bonds of ‘inauthentic niceness’.   Recognise that we have real power over each other.  Women are not innocent of the betrayals they commit but their ignorance of what’s going on and why robs them of the power to act otherwise.  However, it is impossible to malicechange one’s behaviour if it is not named first.  We need to acknowledge the shadow side of female to female relationships to each other, not only the sunny side.  If a woman treats another woman inhumanely, cruelly or sadistically, she needs to understand how powerful, painful and paralysing the effect is.  Naming and acknowledging this is the first step.  It has got to become easier for women to talk about how other women have hurt them and how they might have mistreated other women themselves.

We are competitive but we deny even to ourselves that we envy or compete. We cannot insist that we are all sisters or that we are the kinder gender, this would be foolish and self-destructive.  We need to understand the process required in order to respect and not violate another woman’s boundaries.  It begins with being able to maintain our own boundaries first.

I have been hurt by two women and although I recognise it was my husband’s choice to betray me I must be able to hold them accountable for the harm they did me.

Image Credits: First Time In School by Vlado; Aggression by Sujin Jetkasettakorn; Wedding Ring by Boykung; Malice” by rattigon  all via freedigitalphotos.net

Recognising Marital Recovery

whereWhere are we now?

“Where are we now? The moment you know You know, you know” David Bowie

It was our wedding anniversary yesterday. Husband took me to lovely hotel, had a fabulous romantic evening and came home this morning. In so many ways we are where we have been for most of our lives together. Happy in each other’s company. We are a lovely couple, I don’t doubt that for one moment. However, we are also, in many ways in a very different place. I know that he betrayed me for a bit of skanky sex with a woman who meant nothing to him. I know that in order to do this he distanced himself from me and became a very different man to the one I fell in love with. So, when I look at him now, I sometimes wonder if he will ever be that detached man again.

However, the whole miserable adulterous crap heap does seem to have changed him for the better. It’s like he has returned as the man I fell in love with but now is totally committed to us. It’s strange but I thought he was committed previously. How would I know any different? Now I know that I was blind to his immaturity. I projected my beliefs and values on to him and after a few years forgot to touch base with him.

But I can’t yet say that I have changed for the better. I have changed. I look at the world of romance and couples so very differently now. I can no longer be entertained by the romantic comedy genre. At the hotel yesterday there was a middle-aged couple who were all over each other. Touching, hugging, kissing. The man got up at one stage and returned into the hotel (we were all in the grounds of the hotel, it was a lovely sunny day) and was missing for a good while. I turned to my husband and said “he’s probably ringing his wife, getting that task out-of-the-way so that he can get on with the woman he was with”. Cynical eh?

Several times during the course of our stay I did bring up Pig Shit. Not in an angry or confrontational way because I certainly didn’t want to spoil our time but in a more resigned way. He did ask if we could not talk about it as it was our anniversary but I could not oblige. You see, the whole mess may have receded in the past few years (nearly three years since D-day; four years since adultery commenced) but it remains nestled in our marriage and I cannot ignore this. Our anniversary seemed an appropriate time to bring up Pig Shit. The adultery could have stopped us from ever celebrating any further anniversaries.

What I did realise over the course of yesterday is that we have a strong marriage. Incredibly strong! It might not follow the script that I had written for it and it has certainly included characters that have subsequently been banished from our lives, but we are together. We can talk about Pig Shit and the betrayal. We can share memories from before the adultery and we can share the fresh memories that we have worked hard to create since D-day. We can look forward to a future together and whatever that may bring our way. Good and bad.  My husband has finally grown up and it is a very welcome attribute. Before the adultery I thought my husband loved me. Since the adultery I know my husband loves me. Qualitatively these are worlds apart. I like this one much more.

Where are we now?

TOGETHER

Where are we now? Where are we now? The moment you know, You know, you know. As long as there’s sun. As long as there’s sun. As long as there’s rain. As long as there’s rain. As long as there’s fire. As long as there’s fire. As long as there’s me. As long as there’s you.

Image Credits: The Five Ws Signpost” by artur84/ freedigitalphotos.net