“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
It has been over four years since I was catapulted into this horrendous world of adultery. A world in which lies and distortions of the truth are the order of the day, requisites for the act itself. Previous to this I had experienced a year of marital discord which had me feeling lost and alone and oscillating between doubt and hope for our future together. The dirty secret of adultery was slowly and hideously poisoning us, seeping into an open wound in our relationship that I didn’t even know we had. However, I have suffered more in the aftermath than during the crisis. The intense trauma created by the revelation has been lived through on a daily basis and continues to haunt my history even now, but I am here to tell you that I HAVE SURVIVED, and I have survived and remained in my marriage.
Some would mock my confession. For example, Tracy Schorn better known as the blogger Chumplady is of the opinion that “Reconciliation is fine if you just want to limp along and endure. But I’m not convinced that anyone ever really gets over it when they stay married to a cheater. Seems like an endless buffet of shit sandwiches” Theoretically she says that she thinks it is possible, just not probable. My reconciliation is likened to a unicorn – a mythical creature that I want to believe in, but is rarely sighted.
Whilst I agree with many of her opinions with regard to adultery and understand her positioning on the issue of leaving rather than staying, I don’t agree with her sentiment with regard to reconciliation. Whilst I would not propose that anyone remain with a spouse who is not prepared to change I do believe in the concept of human growth and personal transformation. However, it requires more than hope; it requires a realistic perception of what change requires and we cannot force someone to change.
“When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.”
When a marriage experiences the rupture of the revelation of adultery you don’t get to choose what remains. It’s possible that nothing will remain. For me, the revelation was like an explosion that forced me into a process that I had no comprehension of. I likened it to navigating a ship through a storm. The ship that became my marriage has been in stormy waters for a long time, it has been in hurricanes and whirlwinds and has been lacerated on the rocks. However, eventually it slowed to a halt and arrived somewhere else. What I never suspected was that it might be somewhere better than where we started. Naturally, the furniture did not remain as it was. Some was destroyed, some moved but importantly, the ship did not sink. Surviving betrayal changed everything because it invalidated all my previous assumptions and it required hard work in order to reinvent ourselves as a couple again. For me, the greatest outcome of the survival has been the truths that I have learned about myself.
This blog has been an account of my independent exploration and the way I have navigated myself through the storm. I have come at the problem from up, down, sideways and inside out determined to either get around it or prove conclusively that I’m beaten. I have tried to write myself into clarity or acceptance or comprehension. I feel I have accomplished much of this and have therefore decided to stop writing any further posts. This is my last post, my closure on the narrative of my experience of adultery. Not that the adultery has disappeared from my life and not that I have any unrealistic hopes for the future of our marriage but that I have exhausted all the avenues of enquiry on this topic that I wish to pursue. Adultery has been an absolute eye opener for me; not just for my husband and I but in understanding the world of relationships, commitment and sexuality in general.
There has also been a very interesting but unintended consequence of writing this blog, and that is the wonderful support that has been offered by readers of my posts. Many of them are bloggers themselves going through their own turmoil but finding the time to comment and offer comfort. Not feeling completely on my own in facing the tsunami of emotions has been a life affirming experience. Knowing I had friends, albeit complete strangers, going through similar agonies helped my sanity enormously. I thank you all.
The only negative responses I have had have been delivered by readers who are angry at me for holding the Other Woman to account for her own choices. Whatever they have said has not changed my mind but no doubt they will continue to hurl abusive comments at me. It’s funny but it’s the posts with titles like “Why I want the OW to Suffer” that generate the most traffic on my site.
What I am left with at this juncture in my narrative is a marriage that is unrecognisable to the one that existed before. The past four years have involved us creating a raft of new experiences and a redefined understanding of marriage based upon connection and respect. We both have to take risks in this new relationship: I have to risk that he has changed and that he will not be unfaithful again; he has to risk that I might never get fully over it or reach any stage of forgiveness. Nevertheless, he is truly repentant and continues to make Herculean efforts to demonstrate his change in attitude towards infidelity. To be honest, it is his efforts that proved to be the glue to hold us together over the first three years.
What I am also left with is a sense of outrage at the social dishonesty that presents adultery as a victimless experience. The true picture of adultery is obscured by the ideology of self, consumerism and the hyper sexual culture that appears to have developed. Citing Chumplady again, “Cheaters get all the glory. When infidelity is portrayed in (popular culture) cheaters are the tortured protagonists, sexy taboo breakers compelled by forces greater than themselves to love the forbidden other. Tragic affairs are the stuff of pathos and romance. Oh, the crushing indecision, being torn between two lovers, thwarted by the cruel, cruel forces of monogamy. Poor cheaters. All they seek is happiness. And can you fault happiness?”
What goes hidden is the betrayed spouse’s deep cutting hurts of abuse, loss of trust, and loss of personal safety. All adultery demands perfidy. An incredible amount of deceit, thousands of lies, criss-crossing in an attempt to deny the truth to the one person entitled to know the truth. It is a lie to say that adultery is romance, in fact the biggest lie that we live with today is the fantasy of romance. As James Hollis, the Jungian analyst states “This fantasy is in all of us and is the most virulent ideology of the modern world.” The fantasy of ‘love’ as understood in its romantic context of the ‘magical other’ can be actually seen to promote infidelity by framing the act of adultery as simply seeking a new or better other, especially for the spouse who is lacking in resolve to look within and to take responsibility for meeting more of his or her own needs. It also stops us from understanding the meaning of marriage and long term commitment where loving the other presents a quite different and much more demanding agenda.
I thought I might make my last post a kind of summing up of the issues that have evolved for me over the last few years and which have provided a wider lens with which to look at my own unique experience of marriage, adultery and survival.
Joseph Campbell, the depth psychologist said “I think one of the problems in marriage is that people don’t realise what it is. They think it’s a long love affair and it isn’t.” Perhaps if more was understood about marriage perhaps the Disneyesque romantic myths might be replaced with a more pragmatic framework for a long term relationship.
“Marriage is the most mysterious covenant in the universe. I’m convinced that no two are alike. More than that, I’m convinced that no marriage is like it was just the day before. Time is the significant dimension – even more significant than love. You can’t ask a person what his marriage is like because it will be a different marriage tomorrow.”
What happens in a marriage can never be understood by anyone but the people inside it. This is why any advice given needs to be cautiously received. Every marriage, even so called ‘good marriages’ have their times of strain and stress and this needs to be recognised and acknowledged. Occasionally I read about marriage and monogamy and it is presented as if when the two are combined it is a prison that reduces people’s joy in life. Monogamy equals monotony. Nobody presents this view as polemically as Laura Kipnis in her book Against Love. Problematically for me, she works from an assumption that we have an agreed idea about what love is. She asks when did sex get so boring and when did it turn into this thing that we had to work on? No sense of personal responsibility or delayed gratification fits into her account of love. Adultery for Kipnis is “what the test tube is to science: a container for experiments”. This must include experimenting with lying and cheating and betraying trust?
She provides a list of what you can’t do in marriage, such as leave the house without saying where you are going or what time you’ll return. You can’t go to parties on your own and can’t make plans without consulting the other. All of her points are put over in a negative fashion. However it is possible to turn them around. How many of us like to have someone who knows where we are and when we will be back. It might just be care, concern or interest – not a gulag restriction. How about solicitude? Equally, who really wants to go to parties on their own? Do we mind consulting others with whom we live? Quite frankly, what this sounds like is someone who wants to live on their own. Kipnis suggests that “coupled life is a barren landscape or a tense battleground or a nightmarish repetition, characterised variously by tedium, fighting, silence, or unreasonable insatiable demands.” In this context adultery becomes “the municipal Dumpster for coupled life’s toxic waste of strife and unhappiness”.
But marriage does not need to be viewed in this negative way. Marriage and the opportunities for us to learn about ourselves in the context of relating to another in a committed and long term relationship can offer an equal challenge to grow and develop. Monogamy, the so-called enemy of individual freedom is not a law of nature, it is a desire, a principle, a cultural ideal. We have these rules and ethical injunctions to curb impulses that many or all people have. As humans we regularly rise above our biological imperatives.
There is no commitment that does not bring with it its own tensions, ambivalences and demand for sacrifice. Marriage is a measure of commitment to working things through, to not bolting at the first discord. Maybe long term relationships have a tendency to disappoint because too much is asked of them. David Blankenhorn founder and president of the Institute for American Values, suggests that “people today go into marriage expecting to a far greater degree to have their own needs met. Instead of giving to the marriage, they want much more from the marriage. And often what they want is unrealistic.” Each marriage has the right to ask fidelity, loyalty to the task of marriage and the willingness to work at resolutions. We rarely see promotion of personal responsibility (making the right choice against all impulses, against all desire to make that higher choice and face the sacrifice that comes with it) yet this is what a long term successful commitment will need to demand. Stop presenting the frilly meringue dress infested image of marriage where the couple walk off into the horizon to live happily ever after in a continuous loop of a love affair. Life will get in the way!
However, let’s not ignore our human desire for a meaningful relationship. The psychologist Janet Reibstein notes, “there is such ignorance about the insatiable, ongoing, time honoured, and even animal need to be in a happy, secure, erotic and deepening union with one other person… The stories of great relationships are not being heard above the din of reports of the failed ones.”
Paul Vitz in his book Psychology as religion; the cult of self-worship, discusses the rise of a selfist psychology which has a tendency to give a green light to any self-determined goal. “There is an assumption of the goodness of the self and limited consideration, if any, to the problem that self-expression can lead to exploitation, narcissism or sadism”. Infidelity is a very selfish expression and leads to a great deal of pain and misery, always for the betrayed spouse and usually for the betrayer themselves as well as the other, third person in the act.
Every marriage has a story that could end in divorce; but it does not have to be because of adultery. I do not think that one should leave a marriage lightly. There is the possibility, if both spouses desire it, that the relationship can undergo the changes necessary for the renewal of a long habit-ridden relationship.
I believe that society should care if we lie or cheat or harm others but if we continue to believe that adultery is only a problem for the married couple the larger picture of needing to better understand long term commitment is lost. I have noticed, upon closer inspection that as a society we have become inured to the concept of adultery. It all seems so ordinary until it happens to you. I have puzzled over the whole situation in the years since D-day but the pieces never fit.
Unfortunately, once we find out the true horror of the experience, everything presses us toward a decision even the wrong decision just to be free of the anxiety that precedes any big step in life. Forced decision making is when we have no choice but to accept what has happened and to work with what exists. I’m not sure I made a final decision to stay until a good two years had passed. It took this long to acclimatise myself to the new reality of both my husband and of myself. I had always assumed I would leave him if he was unfaithful.
I realised I had limited control; I could not undo anything that had been done and I could not make sense of why he hurt me in this manner. However, after about two years I began to see a chance of creating something new. Taken out of myself, my disorientated reactions were not what they would normally have been, but I have learned that you can do something you didn’t realise you were capable of doing.
However, I realise, understandably, that people new to the knowledge of their spouse’s adultery do not necessarily wish to hear this message of hope and personal growth manifesting itself only through hard work, painful reflection and lots of time in which to allow the healing to occur. There will be the wish to have the old world and former assumptions reinstituted as quickly as possible. We are desperate to hear ‘yes your marriage can be restored to its pristine assumptions’. But this is just wishful thinking. Patience is required and there has to be time for water to go under the proverbial bridge. There is no silver bullet. There has to be genuine remorse and acceptance of responsibility from the betrayer and behaviour demonstrated over time which mirrors these feelings. And of course, there can be absolutely no further contact with the third person. There has to be a realisation in some instances that the spouse might not wish to be faithful but to enjoy their cake and to eat it too. If you suspect this, then unless you have evidence otherwise, you are destined for a continued life of deceit and betrayal.
From what I can establish, it would seem that adultery reconstructs an alternative world with its own laws and culture. This alternative world is maintained by directing attention away from fearsome facts like betrayal of trust, lying and cheating, hurt and family devastation and repackaging the activity in an acceptable form. This in part explains why ‘friends’ are so complicit with the act. Esther Perel proposes “that an affair (already she’s using language to deflect the sordid reality; ‘affair’ sounds so romantic doesn’t it) is an erotic experience not just about sex. It’s about desire, attention, reconnecting with parts of yourself. About longing and loss”. In my opinion these are destructive illusions. What any adulterer needs to be told is ‘if you’re needs weren’t being met, you ought to have communicated them’.
Perel goes on to proclaim that people in happy marriages cheat and rather than it being something about lack of personal responsibility she suggests that it is marriage which is the imperfect arrangement. I remember feeling outraged when she presented the American discourse of adultery as framed around betrayal and trauma whereas the European attitude suggests more of an erotic experience. What she is doing is using admonitions against moral values to deflect the betrayed spouse’s experience of adultery. This uncoupling of moral concern from the reality of human suffering has caused tremendous harm to many betrayed spouses. Betrayal and trauma can never be an erotic experience for the betrayed. The erotic experience belongs to the adulterer and his or her forbidden other. I don’t think it possible to argue for the rightness of this activity just because of individual preference. For Perel, her view is that we need new negotiations around monogamy. Just what these negotiations might be remain to be seen. The open marriage has always been an option but as Chumplady notes “ It’s one thing to have an open marriage. It’s quite another to have it thrust open you after the discovery of an affair. This ‘offer’ is not sexual sophistication; it’s an implied threat – let me have my cake or we’re through. The cheater lays the blame on monogamy – that impossible condition that, oh hey, we all agreed to.” Perel’s views go hand in hand with Dan Savage, the guy who believes that infidelity ‘saves’ marriages and considers those who reject the idea as ‘smug moralisers’. Like Perel, he wants monogamy to be tinkered with – ‘monogamish’ is his new term. Add Glen Greenwald who argues that infidelity is a private matter between the adulterer and his or her spouse and you have a good cross section of the adulterer champions.
It has seemed to me that when relationships are discussed today there is an absence around theories of love. Is there any proper explanation about love’s weather patterns, low pressure systems, cold fronts, storms? How we might survive its tides and seasons? The understanding that love does not protect you from lust. From my own experience I have discovered that love is a feat exclusively for the strong of heart. However, in place of the complexities of love there is an emphasis on sexual compatibility, changing roles and changing relationships. Relationships in this context have a built in obsolescence. Someone is going to have to be disposable in the end. The power is placed in the hand of the individual who seeks to enjoy ever increasing sexual liberty. Society is silent. In fact it is problematic to articulate dissent.
Natasha Walker in her book ‘Living Dolls; the return of sexism’ notes “Any voices that have challenged our highly sexualised culture in recent times have generally come from the religious right, which means that liberals have become uneasy about joining them”. Infidelity in the light of individual sexual liberty is argued to be a positive aspect of relationships. “Journey from bourgeois marriage into freer sexual relationships, even if it was a journey fraught with sadness, was seen as progress”
Pornography reinforces the hallucination. It is difficult to understand why pornography should be defended in a way that other discriminatory depictions of women are not. The abuse of women in pornography is seen as just sex. Viewers have difficulty in seeing it as violence. Pornography distorts their perceptions. Porn’s message is becoming the cultural norm but it constructs sexuality in a certain way and if you oppose this idea you are categorised. Anti porn = anti sex; Anti adultery = anti sex. Steven Pinker suggests that contrary to conventional wisdom, sex is not a binding force but a divisive one. Our sex drive can be dysfunctional, the relativity of pleasure pushing people to more and more extreme situations just to keep pleasure constant.
A general assumption is that the human impulses provided by biological evolution are right and optimal both individually and socially and that repressive or inhibitory moral traditions are wrong. But, morality is the invention of human intelligence constructed to ensure social cooperation in the face of our more natural, selfish desires. Adultery is without any honesty. It does not suggest that an individual wants to leave their current relationship instead it tries to lie beneath the veneer of commitment whilst at the same time betraying its every principle. What do the champions of adultery suggest? Should it be considered an acceptable principle for everyone? I mean, you can’t have it acceptable for some and not others can you? Reason tells us that we should resist inclination when we cannot endorse the same type of behaviour on the part of others in similar circumstances. Thus we should not take food off another person’s plate unless we are happy to accept it as a principle for everyone. So really, if everyone is in agreement, do we actually need adultery? We can just have sex with whomever our fancy chooses, whenever we feel a bit bored with our married partner. It’s an acceptable principle.
Our highly sexualised culture is also compatible with the ideology of consumerism which is hostile to the discipline of obedience or the delaying of gratification. It is clear that the concepts and values of selfism are not conducive to the formation and maintenance of permanent personal relationships or to values like duty, patience and self- sacrifice which maintain commitment. Does it not make sense that a society in which everyone seeks personal fulfilment might have a hard time holding together?
Initially, when I was confronted with women conspiring against me and my marriage I was naively stunned. My need to believe that women can be more supportive than competitive blinded me to the reality which is not talked about. We’ve been taught to be secret competitors and we have to be aware of this secret competition. Competition between women for a man is both a social and an emotional process for most women: social, because finding and keeping a man has been, historically, the most secure form of financial support for most women; emotional, because women have translated what has been an economic necessity into a psychological desire.
The most vitriolic comments to my blog posts come from women who have been or are Other Women. They are tormented by reconciliation after adultery in a way that I cannot comprehend. At the same time, my blog has introduced me to many lovely women who have affirmed my trust in the possibility of a type of sisterhood. I am proud to have been in communication with women working towards the same goal as myself. Their struggles to come to terms with the horrific reality of their marriage offer a heroic testimony to the power of female understanding.
For me, betrayal has stung me into enlargement. It could have equally led to diminishment but growth is wisdom and results in a decrease in bitterness. I would not have thought that I’d have the stomach for more struggles in my sixth decade but following the earthquake that I experienced inside I have recognised a major shift in my consciousness and I am now entering a new stage in my life. It is my intention and hope to travel through this part of my life with my husband but it does not have to include him. Time will tell. It’s not as frequent as I’d like, but I have times when I experience the calm after the storm and can offer a generosity that can yield gracefully and without bitterness.
Jungian understanding suggests that meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything and that meaningless inhibits fullness of life. I’m in agreement.
I have made a choice to remain with my husband. This is my freedom. It is an important and critical choice that I make at this moment in my life. Is it the right choice? Only time will tell; Jung offers advice. Of each critical juncture of choice, one may usefully ask: “Does this path enlarge or diminish me?” If my husband was not as remorseful as he is, if he could not demonstrate full commitment to me at all times then my choice would diminish me. I could not accept another round of the miserable charade of adultery. I am worth so much more than this and my husband has to agree fully. As it is, my choice appears to have enlarged me and continues to do so.
“The invitation to meet oneself is seldom if ever solicited, it is rather brought on by outer or inner events that force one to question who one is and what values one holds. You have to choose growth or security – you cannot have both”. I will never forget the adultery and I know that the scar will remain for the rest of my life but I am going forward. I will never lower my expectations of him or of our relationship. It is really hard work to stay and I suspect really hard work to leave but what is the alternate choice? Slip back into harbour, unpack our precious cargo and die.
I don’t look at my staying negatively. Instead I consider myself daring. I dared to stay because my wish to do so outweighed my fear of doing it. I have survived adultery by staying and I have become a different person in the process. As James Hollis remarks “In the face of painful, limiting blows suffered –the meaning of my life from this point on will be the degree to which I can express myself more fully in the face of this situation” The fantasy of romantic love/lust does not have me in its grip. That fantasy is for people who lack the resolve to look within themselves and take responsibility for meeting more of his or her own needs. The much greater risk of truly loving the other presents a quite different agenda, a more demanding summons.
It was clear from my husband’s behaviour at the end of the adultery that he was terrified of losing me. “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation” Khalil Gibran. I regret that it had to come to this. But our love now has to be a conscious type of love, the type that has values embedded into it that are compatible with each. Returning to Hollis “The ‘in love’ state, great narcotic as it is, numbs consciousness, retards growth and serves as a soporific to the soul. Consciously loving another obliges risk, courage in the face of ambiguity and the strength of tolerance. Whoever lacks these qualities will never truly have relationship.”
I see my husband very differently now and this has taken a while to become accustomed to. However, “When the myth fails, human love begins. Then we love a human being, not our dream but a human being with flaws.” Anais Nin
So I leave this blog to continue on the next part of my life journey. Whilst there are several blogs that can be located which deal with the experience of staying in a marriage post adultery, many, like mine, start and stop. Should anyone reading this post be wanting a recommendation of which blog to follow I would unreservedly recommend Elle’s Blog entitled the Betrayed Wives Club. It offers a wonderful soft place to land.