Forgiveness #2

hopeAugust 3rd  2016 will mark four years since D-day and five years since my husband made the choice to commit adultery.

I have full details of what the adultery entailed (basically 12 shags in a one year period and a few weeks where he went to live with her after I asked him to leave – not because I knew about the adultery but because his behaviour was becoming increasingly erratic) but to be honest, the details, after all this time really  don’t traumatise me quite like they used to.  The sorry and sordid story will always remain but somehow, time has reduced its capacity to paralyse me emotionally.  It’s like I’ve got to ‘meh’ (apathetic, uninterested, and indifferent). It happened.  Not my circus, not my clowns.  I don’t doubt for one minute that much of my ‘meh’ is a direct result of my husband’s behaviour over the past four years; his remorse and his behaviour towards me in helping me to heal.  I have also been resolute in my expectations of him to help my healing. But somehow this ‘meh’ which I see as acceptance is not enough.

We are close: closer than we have ever been. As I observe his behaviour and feel his genuine remorse, it’s like I’ve been woken up by a new version of my husband. We have not had a night apart since D-day and we have spent an incredible amount of time together.  We have actively created fresh memories and over time, carved out a new identity for our marriage; one which is highly considerate of the other’s feelings and thoughts.  But, for me, I sense a kind of barrier; one that is created by me, and I suspect I know what it is. It is my inability to forgive him for what he did.

Forgiveness, for me, has been the single most challenging aspect of healing from betrayal and I have previously blogged about my struggle with the entire concept. I know all the platitudes that get thrown about: ‘forgiveness is a  gift you give yourself’;  ‘forgiveness is the tool that helps you move on with your life’; ‘if you hold on to your anger it will stop you  from healing’; ‘if you don’t forgive, you let  them live rent free in your head’, but, quite frankly, I have been unable to buy into these simplistic notions  because I have found forgiveness to be a very complex concept to get to grips with and it’s unlikely that one size could possibly fit all circumstances.    However, just recently, I chose to revisit the concept to see if it might be possible for me to move from acceptance to forgiveness.  Not simply as a ‘gift’ as in the Christian ethos but as a human process between people. In my case between the betrayed and the betrayer.

In my search for a greater understanding, I found a book by Charles L Griswold entitled Forgiveness; a philosophical exploration. As the title suggests, it is not a religious argument, but a philosophical one which offers an analysis of forgiveness as a secular virtue (a behaviour which shows high moral standards).  It has helped me enormously to understand what might be happening and what needs to happen in my marriage if I seek a full reconciliation and a sense of peace.  The backdrop to the book is what is considered to be the human aspiration for reconciliation in the face of an impossible to remedy, imperfect world.  Sort of sums up my marriage.  What proved insightful in this book was the focus on the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation.  So, although a very general and far reaching discussion of forgiveness which includes both personal and political forgiveness, I was able to draw many parallels with regard to forgiveness in marital recovery after betrayal.  Following adultery we are confronted with the stark reality of a past that cannot be changed; what Hannah Arendt termed “the predicament of irreversibility”.  As Griswold notes, there are only a small range of options open to us when this happens; “forgetfulness, avoidance, rationalisation or pragmatic acceptance” (He doesn’t mention murder!) I recognise that I have opted for pragmatic acceptance.  However, forgiveness is quite a different response and for Griswold it is a concept that comes with conditions attached.

Historically, forgiveness was not always seen as a virtue. Ancient Greek philosophers viewed the wrong doer as inferior and simply not worthy of any sentiment other than contempt.  But modern ideas routinely link resentment with forgiveness and this has shifted the discourse. Part of a theological framework, resentment became a moral hatred.  It is deliberate response aroused by perception of unwarranted injury and embodies a judgement about the fairness of the action.  It is aimed at the injurer and is reactive and fosters a retributive passion that seeks punishment.   I imagine most betrayed spouses can identify with this feeling.  However, as Griswold points out, what resentment also commonly suggests is a view “that it harbours something suspect, perhaps mean and belittling.  Not a complimentary description.”  So one can begin to see the contradictions we face in our response to adultery.  On the one hand, resentment can be seen as the most appropriate response to our moral injury, but on the other hand it is deemed an unwanted or ‘difficult’ emotion that reflects badly upon us.  I know that I have felt deep resentment towards my husband and it is this emotion that I am struggling with now.  Up until now I have felt fully justified in my resentment, almost nurturing it, as Griswold notes “resentment can provide a certain satisfaction to its owner; it may contain an element of pride” but if this is what is creating a barrier for me between my husband and I and if I do want to explore the possibility of forgiveness it is clear that I will need to consider my resentment towards him and it might just be that the timing now is right.  As resentment can be seen as my response to being lowered in value or diminished, it has impacted upon my self-esteem by lowering it.  However, over the past years I have recovered a much stronger belief in my own rank and value so this may help me to overcome my resentment.

Resentment also embodies the demand that the wrongdoer show the proper respect and be accountable for not having done so. As my husband has constantly and diligently met my demands for respect and accountability I have become more and more aware of my reluctance or inability to change my perspective on his betrayal.  For the first time I have now begun to look at our marriage from the perspective of what I might do to help our reconciliation as well as what he needs to do.  Rather than constantly looking back at what he did wrong maybe I could look forward to a future that we might carve out for ourselves which really does transcend the adultery. Forswearing resentment doesn’t mean I have to give up all my negative feelings associated with his betrayal.  I can still feel sorrow or disappointment towards him, however, I need to overcome my contempt and scorn for him, and I think I’d like to do this if I can.  Griswold suggests that for the process of forgiveness to occur I need to only commit to giving up my resentment and this sounds realistic to me and definitely possible.  Especially when I look at the six conditions that Griswold lists as must be met by the wrongdoer if they seek forgiveness.  They are:

  1. Acceptance that he was the responsible agent for what happened. A failure to recognise this is a denial and adds insult to injury and undermines the possibility of trusting it won’t happen again.
  2. A repudiation of his deeds by acknowledging their wrongness and a disavowal of the idea that the deeds would occur again. This repudiation (if sincere) is a step towards not being the same person.
  3. He must experience and express regret at having caused the injury to me. Not just feel regret but communicate it to me.
  4. He commits to becoming the sort of person who does not inflict injury and this must be shown through deeds and words. Then, the repudiation of past self becomes credible but the burden of proof is his.
  5. He must show he understands from my perspective, the damage done by the injury. This entails listening to my account and grasping it with compassion. He must exercise sympathy in the sense of putting himself in my position and understanding what being in that situation meant for me.
  6. His regret needs to offer some sort of narrative accounting for how he came to do wrong, how that wrongdoing does not express the totality of his person and how he is becoming worthy.

For Griswold, anyone who satisfies even some of these conditions cannot be characterised as a moral monster. My husband satisfies each condition. So now the focus turns to me, the forgiver.  What transformation needs to occur in order for me to forgive?  Well something that I need to recognise is that if I have a commitment to forgive him it would be conceptually incompatible for me to exhibit behaviour that signals a failure to forgive such as hanging on to lingering resentment and reminding him of his misdeeds.  In doing this I am using a form of manipulation, even humiliation.  Regrettably, I know that I have been doing this so I need to consider the four steps that I need to take which are:

  1. The forswearing of revenge
  2. The moderation of resentment and the understanding that resentment does not simply respond to a revision of beliefs. It will require significant intellectual and affective effort.
  3. The commitment to let resentment go altogether
  4. Change my belief that he is a ‘bad person’ by reframing my perspective. Seeing him in a new light, distinguishing that ‘part’ of himself that is responsible for the injury from the ‘whole’ person, on the basis of trust in the future.

This reframing of my perspective towards him insists that I look forward rather than the alternative which is to look backwards and simply  excuse his behaviour.  There is no excuse but instead a credible narrative in which the offender takes the required steps and I, the injured grasp events from his perspective and have reason for trusting that his promise for change is real.

What is absolutely essential (and what has probably taken me this amount of time even to be open to the possibility of forgiveness) is that the nature of the injury is deemed forgivable by me.  This is in contrast to the Christian notion of the one directional gifting of forgiveness.  I will never be able to comprehend  this view, derived from the New Testament, emphasising  the moral necessity of responding to wrongdoing by accepting it, turning the other cheek, and re-embracing the offender in an act of love or compassion.  I actually think it could create further problems where adultery is concerned.  Again, citing Griswold,  “To forgive someone undeserving of the honour, under the banner of a gift may condone the wrongdoer and even provide encouragement to more offences”. Equally, if I am to change my perspective towards my husband,  I have to see myself in a new light.  I need to drop my moral superiority and in its place recognise our shared humanity.  I need to stop defining myself as the person injured by adultery by this person.  In this light, “forgiveness is, so to speak, a vote for the victory of such values as respect, growth and renewal, harmony of self and reconciliation, affection and love”. There is also the alleviation of guilt that is likely to follow from my forgiveness which can have enormous consequences for my husband’s wellbeing.

It does seem a bit harsh to claim that because my husband has committed this terrible deed that he is reducible to those deeds and is thus absolutely unforgivable. This ignores what I believe is the human capacity for remorse, choice and moral transformation.  No doubt, there will be some adulterers who turn out to be incapable of any remorse or moral transformation but in four years I have no reason to suspect that my husband is anything other than remorseful.  He has convincingly depicted a change of ways that have unfolded over the past four years.  He has shown that he is not just an adulterer; that adultery is not ‘all’ of him and indeed he is becoming ‘his better self’.  This is the narrative of change.

Forgiveness in this style is fundamentally an interpersonal process whose success requires action from both the injured and the injurer. Running through Griswold’s philosophical account of forgiveness is the key theme of growth for both the forgiven and the forgiver. Working towards forgiveness is “not just a rupture with the past, let alone its obliteration, but its reinterpretation and integration into a larger narrative – that of a life as a whole”.  A decision not to be determined by the past alone.  There is both a reversal (a new perspective on injury) and a continuity (one remains the same subject of the various chapters).

“Forgiveness does not reiterate the past but promises renewal without forgetfulness, excuse or condemnation of past wrongs. It rejects the Platonic ‘narrative of nostalgia’ – a tale of yearning for another, better world accompanied by a determination to flee from this one”   So, for Griswold, forgiveness is a process rather than an end result.  It’s about adopting a different perspective and attaching a different meaning to it.

I have found Griswold’s discussion which suggests that forgiveness is a conditional process extremely helpful and it has helped to shift my thinking on how to respond going forward, four years post D-day. Of course, everyone’s experience of adultery and betrayal is different and every adulterer’s response will be different, but for me, identifying the conditions required for forgiveness has softened my approach to my husband because he has met all the conditions that Griswold suggests are required for me to make a commitment to forswearing resentment. And after four long years, it’s like I might be able to finally let go. At the least, I will commit to letting it go.

Trust After Adultery

Atrustfter experiencing adultery, one of the questions that cause deep anguish is “will I ever be able to trust again?” Unfortunately, this is a question that tugs deeply at our inner core of who we are and it is as tough to answer for those who decide to leave their cheater as it is for those who choose to attempt reconciliation. If you choose to leave you have to think about trusting someone new; if you choose to stay you have think about trusting someone who has betrayed you in the past.

Not trusting is an awful feeling, doubt just gnaws away at everything, but trusting after betrayal feels too vulnerable, too exposed. It’s a form of paralysis.  What can we do?  Is it a binary set of options or is there another way to reconceptualise the trust that previously we took for granted and never questioned so that we can move forward in our lives?

David DeSteno a professor of psychology at Northeastern University has a number of interesting insights. In his 2014 publication ‘The Truth About Trust: How it determines success in life, love, learning and more’ suggests that “trust isn’t just about the facts. It’s about trying to predict what someone will do based on competing interests and capabilities.”  And this is a complicated business.  Although this is not a book focused on infidelity, the truth is, issues of trust permeate our days in a multitude of ways not just with our spouses. It is a dilemma of everyday life.  We trust work colleagues, we trust that when we order something on line it will be delivered, we trust our money is safe in the bank, we trust technology etc. etc.  If no one were willing to trust and subsequently honour their commitments then human society would break down.  Viewed in this way, trust becomes a bet “and like all bets, it contains an element of risk. The potential for loss”.

I have never thought about trust in this manner. I trusted my husband blindly and see now that this was foolish.  Do I trust him now?  Yes, and no! “Challenges to trust in the romantic realm begin with a hmmm – a pause where we reflect on questionable behaviour” Following his previous deceit I would now be more aware of the suspect signs and early warning signals of infidelity so I reassure myself that I can trust him if his actions appear trustworthy. But, I also need to protect my vulnerability so reducing my trust in him guards against my being exploited.  As DeSteno notes “If you think you can’t trust a partner at all, transparency is the only way to go” and I have insisted that he be completely open with me and answer all of the questions that I need answered in order to trust him. He has achieved this and continues to do so almost four years since D-day.  However, verifying actions are not always possible and it can be an onerous task. At times I have to risk that he will not deceive me again.  I realise that agreeing to stay with him, knowing that he betrayed me previously might lead to exploitation but my experience to date is that it has allowed a loyal relationship to blossom in the shadow of a regrettable mistake.  He accepts and understands my reduction of trust as a consequence of his previous behaviour.

What makes us decide to trust someone? Reputation?  Well yes, but as DeSteno points out “the primary concern with reputation is that we assume it represents a set of stable traits. If someone is honest, she’ll always be honest.  If he cheated, he’ll cheat again.  But scientific data clearly shoes that human morality is quite variable.  It’s always been this way but we’re just coming to recognise it” Experiments have shown that an individual’s trustworthiness cannot be reliably predicted from their past actions.

“Consistency in moral behaviour results not from an essence or trait engraved in our minds, but rather from an undisturbed balance between competing sets of mental mechanisms. As long as the general benefits of situations we encounter in our daily lives don’t alter the relative payoffs our behaviour remains the same.  However, change the payoffs, either through altering the situation or the thinking and behaviour changes.”

So when it comes to trust, the question we should be asking, according to DeSteno is not is he trustworthy, but is he trustworthy right now? If human morality can be understood to involve trade offs between short-term and long-term gains then adultery, if no one finds out, does not diminish any long term prospects and it can be perceived as a way of having your cake and eating it too.  Instead of thinking about an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other as competing aspects to a moral dilemma, DeSteno asks us to imagine images from an Aesop fable; an ant, which signifies concerns for the future (collecting food for the winter) and a grasshopper who signifies the opposite (enjoying the here and now – enjoying the summer).  “Trustworthiness, viewed in this way points to the ability to self-regulate – to resist immediate desires in favour of those that possess long-term benefit” This ability to self-regulate is compatible with the concept of positive freedom.  Unlike negative freedom which is defined by the freedom we have without interference from others, positive freedom is the freedom to be in control of our life.  Positive freedom is increased not by less interference from others but by the personal ability to overcome less rational desires i.e. knowing that if we spend our time studying now rather than partying, our future prospects in life will be much better.  Positive freedom is about achieving our full potential and we are not free if we find ourselves a slave to passing emotions such as desire or lust.  For my husband to behave in a trustworthy manner will depend upon him valuing the long term benefits of the loving stable relationship that he can have with me if he chooses to be faithful.

An interesting aspect of DeSteno’s analysis is where he considers jealousy.  I recognise that jealousy plays a role in my feelings about my husband’s adultery but I have yet to fully examine this in any way.  For DeSteno it is a cost of trusting in a romantic relationship.  But it is a difficult emotion to describe easily.  Also, in contrast to DeSteno’s conclusion, I previously experienced jealousy towards my husband’s previous lovers, so this is not connected to my trusting him.  Nevertheless, jealousy in the context of adultery is a combination of “fear, anger and a sadness that gnaws at the soul.” The fear results from the anxieties about the social and economic costs that losing a partner entails.  The anger stems from knowing you were cheated on and that your partner violated the rules and sadness is due to the realisation that another person, someone whose judgements you value, viewed another person as desirable.  Just like adultery, jealousy is not all about sex.  The media may present it in this way but it is not the ultimate cause, this is an illusion.  Jealousy is also about trust. As DeSteno suggests, trust can be breached in marriage in a variety of ways, for example money being  siphoned off for gambling, but this will not spark a flicker of jealousy.  Anger yes, but jealousy no.  “Jealousy only occurs when there’s a triad.  While most instances of trust involve two people, jealousy requires three.” He has a point.

“It’s the triadic nature of the situation that stokes jealousy. Unlike situations where trust is broken because one person favours his own interests over another (e.g. skimming profits, engaging in fraud) breaches of trust that gives rise to jealousy occur when there is a relative asymmetry in value between two options. A partner isn’t choosing to cheat you out of something; he’s choosing to cheat on you with someone else.” As jealousy is sensitive to not only what is happening at the moment but also to what might happen in the future it has a symbiotic relationship with trust.  Whereas I can see that jealousy impacts upon trust and vice versa I only see it as an aspect of adultery.  Yes, my husband chose to cheat on me with someone else but he also cheated me out of my reality by keeping it a secret.

In thinking about the trust we have in others we also need to think about the trust we have in our selves. Adultery has not only altered how I feel about trusting another, it has altered the way in which I think about how trustworthy I can be to myself.  Before I discovered my husband was unfaithful I trusted that I would walk away from any relationship in which my partner chose to not be monogamous.  But hey, look where I am! As DeSteno so aptly notes “we can be surprised by our own actions and shocked when we let ourselves down.” Yet I have to trust myself as well as my husband.  However, deciding to trust myself is the same as deciding to trust someone else; I’m placing a bet on what the future me is likely to do.  How trustworthy I am likely to be to my earlier intentions will depend on not only where I am but when I am; what person will I be in any given circumstance. So, I move forward, trusting my husband each day but not in the way that I did prior to his adultery and even though his past behaviour need not predict his future behaviour I would be foolish to not let my experience make me wiser.

“Trusting is better than not doing so but blind trust is not the optimal solution. We need to want to trust but to know when to pull back. There are, and always will be those in whom trust would be misplaced.”

So no clear cut answers I’m afraid. I do believe that if my husband were confronted with the same opportunity as previously to commit adultery he would not because he is not the same man.  His regret and remorse has filled him to his boots and I am confident that he now listens to the ant and not the grasshopper.  Equally, his feelings of shame have caused him to condemn his own untrustworthiness and these emotions of guilt and shame can put a brake on motivations for immediate self-interest.  Plus, following DeSteno’s analysis I realise that the question will always be – not is he trustworthy but is he trustworthy today – because trust is not a stable attribute.

Today, I trust him and I trust myself. I will never trust blindly again but refuse to police his activities.  Instead I will demand transparency and should our situation change and he becomes a man once more in whom trust would be misplaced I will insist upon us separating. Trust me.

Image Credit: Catching Trust Word by Stuart Miles

Reasons to stay after betrayal

staying 3Once you find out that your spouse has been unfaithful; has betrayed you and broken your trust in the most despicable manner, you realise that your life will never be the same. Every foundation that you thought you were standing on gets ripped out from under your feet and you have nothing but tumultuous free-fall.  In the midst of this whirlpool of despair which drags you to emotional depths you didn’t imagine you had,  not only do you have to somehow comprehend the horror of it all, you have to make a decision as to whether to remain in your marriage and somehow accept adultery or seek divorce.  Neither option is attractive; and neither option is one that you ever predicted you would have had to face in your lifetime.


For me, the circumstances of the discovery played a role in how I responded and why I chose to remain in the marriage. Prior to D-day, all I was aware of was a kind of distancing from my husband but nothing that caused me any alarm.  We had been together for ten years and I appreciated the natural ebb and flow that occurs in long term intimate relationships.  I thought it was a midlife crisis of sorts for him, related to his work and also his lack of passion for anything in particular.  I would ask what was wrong and would get nothing much back in return.  He would say that he felt differently about me but could not explain it in any comprehensible fashion.  The stance that I took was to allow him the mental space to work things out in the hope that in time it would pass and in the meantime thought it best just to love him and try to understand he was going through a difficult patch.  It makes me weep to write this.  There I was, working on my conviction that I loved him and needed to be kind to him even though I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the shift that I was sensing in his feelings towards me.  I asked if there was someone else.  I asked if he was gay. No, was the reply.


Then, a type of crescendo occurred in his behaviour and attitude. Over a few days, after we had come back from our holiday, I knew he was becoming increasingly troubled.  One night I just held him and we both cried and cried.  I felt that I had reached him in a way that had not been possible for months.  He clung on to me really tightly that night in bed, telling me over and over how much he loved me.  I tried to sooth him.  To sooth myself.  By the morning, any ground that we had made was lost.  I got up and went about my day.  Had lunch with an old friend.  I can’t recall how it was when I returned home, but I do remember him sitting on our couch with his head in his hands repeatedly saying “I don’t want to be here”.  He was ignoring anything I was saying.  I remember that I went to bed first and was reading my book when he opened the bedroom door to inform me that he was going to sleep in the spare room.  This had never happened before under any circumstance.  I was lost for anything more to say.  I let him go into the spare room and then after a couple of hours of uncomfortable restlessness I left the house and went to my brother’s house to stay.


I arranged a meeting with my husband two days later in a neutral location. I told him that I’d heard him clearly and was not prepared to continue as we were.  If he didn’t want to be with me I would accept it but I wanted him to move out, to go and stay with friends because I was finding it all too difficult.  I don’t know how, but I kept my tears held in tightly until I had driven far enough away in order to park in a side road and weep and weep and weep.  He had seemed relieved and I believed that his love for me had somehow disappeared.  That he had fallen out of love with me.  I could not work out for the life of me where it had all gone so dramatically wrong.  From a sense of disconnect to this complete break up between us left me reeling in shock.  In such a short time I had moved from a belief that I was happily married to the understanding that we were separating. How could the marriage have faltered so badly without me knowing? But, I know that you cannot force someone to love you, and honestly, I would not want to. He moved out a couple of days later, saying he appreciated my understanding.  Of course, he did not go to stay with friends, he went to stay with Pig Shit who must have offered him peace and solace between her legs whilst joyously happy basking in her understanding that she had ‘got’ her married man away from his wife.  12 shags over a period of one year and that was enough for her to believe in her ‘romance’ and that they were now going to live together, happy ever after, now that I was out of the picture.  Really, what woman in her right mind would have thought this a possibility?  Didn’t she smell the rat that had entered?


I put our house on the market, visited a solicitor and cried myself to sleep for about two weeks. I consumed a fair amount of red wine too.  We were polite with each other via e-mail and texts; as he works from home I had to deal with some of his work matters that didn’t travel so easy.  I was just getting along with it and I have to say I was exceptionally strong.  This is what has amazed me the most.  When I thought he had stopped loving me, I was able to confront that devastating truth with courage, resilience and acceptance.  But, after ten days of separation I was shocked one morning, when he arrived on the doorstep.  He looked lost, dejected and somewhat vacant.  I invited him in for tea (it’s an English thing) and from then on, the road to his return was laid.  I was not prepared to just have him return.  I needed him to provide some explanations for his behaviour.  Over time he said a few negative things about our relationship but nothing that shocked me and nothing that couldn’t be easily rectified.  He did keep saying it was him and that he had got lost and didn’t understand himself which all fitted into my perception of him having a midlife crisis.  We met with his mother (because she was/is a problem for him and us).  He met with my daughter (his step daughter) and with me on several occasions until I agreed he could come home and we would try to breach the gap between us.  He was over the moon.  I really mean this.  He was absolutely over the moon.  And I, in my naivety, believed that we would be able to get our marital discord sorted with relative ease and that he would ‘find’ himself again and be the man I thought I was married to.  But this feeling didn’t last long.


Two days later Pig Shit decided to text me and the rest is history. Whereas I can confront the possibility of my husband not loving me anymore, I could not for one single solitary second face the reality of him committing adultery and lying to me.  My rage erupted.  I wanted him OUT! OUT! OUT!  I crumbled.  Why didn’t he just stay with Pig Shit?  I had made it so easy for him.  What insane impulse led him to leave me only to return in such a short space of time?  Why didn’t he tell me the truth BEFORE returning?  Well, I know his answer to this and he is probably right.  Whereas I would not have let him return – once back in the home he would have a slim chance of staying.  That slim chance materialised.  It is almost four years later and I have to say that I do not doubt either his determination to make amends for what he did or of his honesty towards me.  Equally, Pig Shit was totally out of the equation so I was not subject to any overlap between us at any time in our recovery.


I think my motives for staying are clear to me. I had had a good past with him, and from day one post D-day he has stepped up to the plate and shown me behaviour that convinces me that he is deeply remorseful and committed to being trustworthy and loyal. I believe our future has every prospect of burying this shed load of toxic waste if he/we continue in the same manner. But each experience of adultery is different and clearly every betrayed spouse faces a unique set of circumstances in which to make the decision of whether to stay or go.  I have not had to engage with the ‘pick-me’ dance that some spouses face and up until recently had not given thought to why anyone would agree to this charade.  However, it’s so easy to think you will do what you say you will do.  Reality is a different playing field.  I didn’t think I would ever accept a husband committing adultery but I have.    Just recently I have read a book which opened my mind to why a woman might agree to the ‘pick-me’ dance.  It made total sense to me and if I were in her shoes, I’d likely do the same.  It was because she had two young children, and this made all the difference.  But I think her strategy makes sense in a number of ways, even if young children are not involved.


You see, it all has to do with the OW. We KNOW that a woman with no scruples about having sex with someone else’s husband is a dirt bag; in fact that’s probably her major attraction to the unfaithful husband. I don’t think it’s what they cultivate between their ears that create the lascivious infatuation.  I’m sure that my husband was craving arousal rather than intimacy from Pig shit.  The OW won’t be any sexier than the wife but I guarantee that she will be sluttier.  And of course, the husband becomes an equal dirt bag by his actions with her, so really the whole thing is a degenerate process enveloped by the stink of betrayal.  In anger, it’s easy to say that he deserves to have the dirt bag OW – lock stock and barrel.  HOWEVER, at the end of the day, he is one woman’s  husband and maybe the father of lovely children too and the OW inveigling herself  fully into the husband’s  life is not necessarily going to be the best idea for the betrayed spouse,  whether she chooses to stay or leave her husband.    My husband is not the man I thought he was, but to be honest he deserves better than Pig Shit.  She would have thought that she had hit gold with my husband.  He would have simply hit rock bottom.  Yes, you could say he deserved it but what if you don’t want to see him punished in such a fashion? And what if you don’t want the OW to have the satisfaction of thinking that she’s had a victory albeit a pyrrhic one?


Staying 2The book ‘Couple Mechanics’ written by Nelly Allard has really got me thinking differently and I am far more sympathetic to betrayed spouses who do their best to pull their spouse away from the OW.

The wife in Allard’s book is not shy of the truth “He’d betrayed her trust, he’d reduced them to a tawdry mediocrity she didn’t want and didn’t deserve” – this certainly sums up how I feel. Her hatred of the OW is, as we all know, something very difficult to acknowledge and then deal with.  In the novel, Juliette, the wife was “disturbed to acknowledge a mounting feeling toward [the OW], a feeling she had recognised as hate.  She loathed what she herself was becoming because of this woman, loathed the violence building inside of her.”  She knew that she should have resented her husband alone and that it was unfair to focus her anger on the OW but it didn’t stop her wanting to “crush her head between two stones”. 


At times in the book I just wanted Juliette to fuck her husband off as he vacillated between her and the OW, but by the end I fully understood that IF she had not thrown down the gauntlet it was likely that in his weakness he would have just been led by the nose (maybe the penis) into a hopeless situation with a disturbed young woman who was desperate to be in his life AND to have a part in his children’s lives. Before this book I hadn’t realised the severity of this scenario.  I am now deeply sympathetic towards betrayed spouses who have to somehow accept that the dirt bag OW will now have intimate contact with her children.  I think the maternal instinct would really kick in here for me.  Irrelevant of whether the long term marital future is secured, at least dragging him away using whatever means available, means the dirt bag gets vanquished whilst the wife gains the emotional space in which to decide upon her own future.


Perhaps deciding to stay need not be a romantic response. Hell, the adultery fed off that myth!  It is difficult for any woman to learn that she has been a cuckquean but we must be cautious about conforming to social expectations.  As Lauren Rosewarne suggested in ‘Cheating on the Sisterhood’ “For many betrayed women, external pressure and cultural perceptions about the significance of infidelity may motivate departure.”   It may also be harder for those of us who consider ourselves to be feminists of some kind.  Rosewarne goes on, “the nature of betrayal by the person you love most in the world, compounded with cultural and political expectations that you leave, may make departing seem like the appropriately feminist response”.


Should we decide to stay, others’ responses to our decision can be quite resolute and this can be a challenge to face along with the challenges already being faced by the trauma of discovery.  But maybe we need to reflect deeply upon this before we make any decision that will dramatically impact our lives. As Juliette notes in ‘Couple Mechanics’, “People have a clear idea of how women who’ve been raped should behave, they also have a very clear idea of how a betrayed woman should behave, what she can and can’t put up with, what she should and shouldn’t accept, and in the name of women’s dignity and integrity, the consensus was that it was their duty to be intransigent, that they were required to choose glorious solitude over flawed love.”  


But Rosewarne offers an alternative perception on staying. “If a woman decides to exit her relationship because of an affair, her actions may be construed as handing victory to the other woman, regardless of whether the man stays with the other woman.  To throw in the towel in this manner, to give up and let the other woman or women – more broadly – partake of the spoils of a relationship breakdown maybe a sufficient deterrent to the betrayed woman walking away.”


“For some betrayed women, while the affair may have been perceived as a relationship threat, her ego, stubbornness and competitive streak may prompt her to decide that it will not RUIN her relationship.” Citing the work done by Shirley Eskapa (Woman v Woman) “women who resist in an unnecessary divorce frequently gained immeasurably in self-respect and in many instances the marriage was stronger”.


Marriage recovery need not be the unicorn that many suggest. Obviously I am not suggesting for one moment that a woman needs to accept any and all acts of adultery, but I am saying that we need to recognise the complexities and contradictions of choosing to stay.  It is a very tough choice to make and as with all choices there are no guarantees, and it may take a lot of time to establish a firm footing with each other after one has betrayed the other, but it’s OK to fight and it’s OK to feel like it’s a battle.  When I look back at my husband’s adultery, I liken it to being placed in a boxing ring with a blindfold and my staying 4hands tied behind my back with a host of collaborators in ring side seats watching  me get hurt by my husband and Pig Shit.  Now, and forever onwards, the blindfold is off and nobody will tie my hands behind my back again.  I will never be able to blindly trust a man again but at least with my husband he understands why, that in itself helps me because he ensures that I never have reason to be suspicious and this offers me a peace that I can bathe in.


“Despair and fear do not disappear overnight when the conditions that wrought them have changed. You can’t change the tale so that you turned left one day instead of right, or didn’t make the mistake that might have saved your life a day later.  We don’t get those choices.  The story is what got you here, and embracing the truth is what makes the outcome bearable”  Gail Caldwell; New life, no instructions.


“But we keep making our way as we have to. We’re all pretty much able to deal even with the worst that life can fire at us, if we simply admit that it is very difficult.  I think that’s the whole of the answer.  We make our way, and effort and time give us cushion and dignity.  And as we age, we’re riding higher in the saddle, seeing more terrain” Darin Strauss: Half a life


What is this female desperation for a man?

crumbsWhen I think about the woman who my husband committed adultery with I am always puzzled by her motivation to participate in such a miserable experience. To give herself to a married man in return for crumbs fallen from the table of our ten year relationship.  Why was she prepared to put up with being second to me?  Why was she prepared to be sexually available at his convenience?   Why, if she had been betrayed herself would she want to inflict this on to another woman? Why would she willingly embark on an affair with a married man when she had already done so for three years previously and had been unsuccessful in getting him to leave his wife for her?  It makes no sense to me.

Pig Shit was/is a single woman. Twice married and divorced with a string of unsuccessful relationships under her belt.  If she wanted a relationship with a man (and she certainly did) why didn’t she seek available men on dating web sites?  Why was she prepared to ‘date’ a married man who lived with his wife?  How did she handle the jealousy?  Why would any woman engage in something so destructive as a relationship with a married man unless they were desperate for something that they felt they could only have with somebody else’s husband.   I suspect that Pig Shit is either unable to attract an available man for a relationship and/or unable to function effectively in a committed relationship.  Therefore when a married man shows interest she eagerly reduces any aspirations for a single, available man because here’s an opportunity to get what she wants.  A man in her life.  At a price that she is willing to pay because she considers herself nothing without a man.


Some women do not need a man to feel complete and are able to live autonomous lives, capable of living alone and liking it. I personally enjoy a committed relationship and prefer to share my life with a significant man but not to the exclusion of all else.   There are other aspects to my life that are hugely valuable and which shape my selfhood.  Feminism, without doubt has improved the lives of women in the west but it appears to have been unable to silence the internal chatter of many women which focuses thoughts on finding a man with whom to complete their identity.  I don’t think that men have ever felt they needed women in quite the same way.  Historically, men have always been able to establish their status and fulfil their potential outside their relationship in ways that women in restricted lifestyles were unable to.  We may have freed ourselves from many of the restrictions placed upon us in the past but I fear that some women have maintained the mental chains that tie them to a patriarchal view of womanhood.     As Penelope Russianoff in her book; Why do I think I am nothing without a man, aptly states “women have, indeed, come a long way – socially, sexually, and to a lesser extent, economically.  Emotionally, however, they still have a long way to go.”  The late Russianoff was a psychologist, feminist therapist, writer and an expert on teaching women how to assert themselves, all in addition to maintaining a private practice.  She said that about 95% of her female patients thought they were nothing without a man.  She characterises the ‘void-without-a-man’ feeling as “desperate dependence”. 


My husband’s OW was a single woman and this is a particular form of infidelity. In fact Richard Tuch describes it as a syndrome; “the single woman-married man syndrome”.  Initially the man might be viewed as having the more powerful position than the single OW but this is just something the OW goes along with.  Permitting this illusion is something the single OW offers in return for his continued interest and involvement with her.  However, at a later point this control shifts and he starts to fear that if he were to break off the relationship she would retaliate in order to hold on to the relationship at any cost.  It is interesting to note that within 48 hours of my husband dumping her, Pig Shit retaliated by texting me with information about herself and my husband.  I often wonder if this was a last ditch attempt to keep my husband.  How many single OW manipulate their married lover in this way along with their little caches of sexual tricks. This is not romance it is desperation.


The unabashed narratives that OWs create to justify their involvement with a relationship that clearly has no future are remarkable. However, they also offer a glimpse into the desperate nature of these illicit sexual encounters.  The sexual revolution that occurred with free oral contraception and women’s entry into the world of work seems to have gone awry for some women.  Mistaking permissiveness for liberation, women’s sexuality, especially when applied to adultery, has simply provided men with what they desire – sex without strings.  I’ll accept that for some women permissive sex may be perceived as liberating but it does not need to happen with married men.  When was there ever a shortage of men wanting causal sex? The type of feminism that supports women having sex with married men is a feminism that lacks female imagination!


Elizabeth Gilbert in her article: Confessions of a Seduction Addict, in the NYT magazine in June of last year illustrates the point.  Her indiscriminate permissiveness is dressed up as seduction.  “Seduction was never a casual sport for me; it was more like a heist, adrenalizing and urgent. I would plan the heist for months, scouting out the target, looking for unguarded entries”. She says that seeking out men for sex had nothing to do with either love or sex; it was the thrill of seduction that she sought.  If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, she worked at being ‘different’.  If he needed to sneak out of his house after midnight in order to call her she believed she was his “irresistible treasure”.  Nice way of putting it Gilbert but I’d say that you could just as easily be called “easy pussy”.  She goes on to say “But over time (and it wouldn’t take long), his unquenchable infatuation for me would fade, as his attention returned to everyday matters. This always left me feeling abandoned and invisible; love that could be quenched was not nearly enough love for me” – or for him, clearly. She says it took her twenty years to recognise that stealing other women’s boyfriends didn’t make her a revolutionary feminist; it made her a menace. To whom I wonder?


Why all this hard work?  Charlotte Allen writing for the Independent Women’s Forum suggests a more likely perspective on events.  “Um, Elizabeth, there’s an easier way to accomplish this trajectory. Here it is: Go to a bar an hour before closing time.

 Another way of phrasing ‘his unquenchable infatuation for me would fade’ is: ‘I’ll call you.’

And if there’s someone specific you’ve got your heart set on to ‘win,’ here’s another tip for making it easier in 99 percent of the cases: Invite him over (or drive over to his house) and be wearing something scanty and lacy when the door opens. See! You don’t need to ‘plan for months’ after all!”

Allen suggests that Gilbert was behaving in this way as a sort of desperation at not feeling desirable. “The most desirable women don’t need to scout; they have men orbiting around them like GPS satellites”.  For Allen, Gilbert is not a ‘seduction addict’  but a gal who has made the mistake of thinking it was a big deal to get some men to go to bed with her.  In agreement with Allen, I really don’t think it’s difficult to get men to have sex with you.


Miss Sarah J Symonds is another desperado. She is now, allegedly, an ‘infidelity analyst’.  What qualifies her?  Well, not qualifications.  She proudly claims that she spent fifteen years of her life as a serial mistress.  Looks like desperation for attention to me. Symonds claims to fame include an affair with Jeffrey Archer and a so called 7 year affair with the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey.  Ramsey denied it but even by her accounts it didn’t amount to much – 7 shags in 7 years to be precise.  Symonds, like Gilbert considers her behaviour to be an addiction.  She set up ‘Mistresses Anonymous’ a website for helping women to wanting to get out of a toxic relationship with a married man and has defined 12 steps with a 13th step being alcohol.  Apparently, she is swamped by women in despair!  All these helpless women in unhappy relationships with married men not knowing how to get out.  Oh pleeeeease!   Of course, there is a book – Having an Affair published in 2007 and she has appeared on Oprah.  When asked if she ever thought of the wife and possible children at home she replied that she didn’t because he wasn’t thinking of them either!  She now considers herself reformed.  If she is, there’s no humility in the mix.  The arrogance is breath-taking.


Finally, a third single OW who appears equally unable to successfully form a committed relationship and who contents herself with being second best. This time, a feminist academic  who charts her miserable and toxic relationship with a man in a committed relationship.  This has dispelled one of the myths that I had built up around Pig Shit.  I had thought that only an unintelligent , uneducated and socially unaware  woman would  allow herself to be treated so poorly in a relationship that she could walk away from.  Lauren Rosewarne is living proof that none of these attributes protect a woman from making a fool of herself.  It is also clear that feminism per se does not support the committed relationship.  Perhaps it should.  Rosewarne also recognises as did Russianoff that “many female identities are defined by the absence of a male partner.  These ideas reinforce that coupling – however achieved – is the single woman’s raison d’etre.” She also points out that “inequalities that plague committed heterosexual relationships are often amplified in infidelity”. 


Rosewarne writing in her book: Cheating on the Sisterhood, has also recognised the limited choice of some women that may prompt them to become the OW rather than be on their own. “For some, involvement with a committed man empowers them to design a relationship to suit their needs.  The limited nature of infidelity matches their low needs and demands, but for others a limited relationship is imposed when the choice for more is not available.”  For Pig Shit, where there is no available single man, her relationship with my husband could never have been called empowering.   She probably considered herself hopeful when in fact she was merely gullible.


Rosewarne continuously wanted more from the committed man than he was willing to offer. “The reality for many single women and certainly for me, is that they want more from the committed man.”  This in part explains the willingness to accept so little.  “She fears offending the man, of causing him to dislike her and abandon her.  It prevents her from asking for more.  She accepts crumbs because they are better than nothing. No matter what he might be doing now, some contact is better.  This rationalisation means she lowers her standards of what constitutes acceptable behaviour.”


Not only does the OW accept minimum contact, the irony is “the single woman wants to understand why such a good decent man is cheating and will analyse his relationship to find cracks.” Rosewarne felt sorry for her committed man and actually empathised with his situation.  However, there was no opportunity, ever, to feel for his betrayed partner.  She goes on to cite Michael Vincent Miller from Intimate Terrorism “We have grown careless with one another’s lives to an unprecedented degree, more willing to take each other for granted, more able to destroy one another on almost any pretext of meeting a need, from wanting sex to wanting someone else’s Nike Basketball shoes.”


All the OW really gets is the married man’s non-exclusive dick. She offers low maintenance appeal to the man which is “a direct result of the restricted nature of the relationship – not what she’d tolerate in a committed relationship”. But I wonder if this is true.  What wouldn’t Pig Shit tolerate in a committed relationship?  Would she really expect more?  Why can’t Pig shit establish a long-term relationship? Is it because she allows men to treat her like shit, so they do?


How about the jealousy, knowing that your lover is going home to his wife? Rosewarne says that “for most of the time I simply saw her as the cause of his problems and my impediment to being with him.”  She pretended she didn’t exist and boxed out the woman who was being betrayed.  “In my case, not thinking about their sex life had nothing to do with a fear that I might be affecting a happy relationship.  In fact, it had nothing to do with alleviating guilt at all; it was simply about alleviating my pain.” Rosewarne is searingly honest about her affair.  There is neither romance or glamour in the narrative.  She, like Gilbert suggests that the man is seeking not better than his wife, just different.


The lying and deceit of the married man is also rationalised away. “Although the clandestine relationship is built upon her lover’s betrayal of his wife, the OW is unlikely to imagine he may also be betraying her – that his relationship with his wife might be more emotionally and sexually satisfying, as well as more frequent than he lets on.”


I keep coming back to the notion of desperation as the only understandable motivation for being the OW. “Perhaps the self-esteem of the OW is so impaired that she is content that any man is interested in her and instead of construing the relationship as abusive, accepts it as ‘as good as she will get’.” What if she’s never experienced a loving committed relationship?


For Rosewarne, as for the majority of OW, it did not end well.  He left his partner but chose not to be with her.  Sadly, she does not regret a minute of it and would, if asked, return to him in a heartbeat. She was entertainment, companionship, sex and conversation for him.  She functioned like a second car or holiday home; a pleasure within the illicit encounters but put back in the box afterwards.  But this was enough for her!


How many desperate single women are just waiting in the wings until the opportunity presents itself to snare a man? I find my whole relationship with women and with feminism shifting on the sands of adultery. What is it, about women, that  allows such hostility towards an unsuspecting and vulnerable wife in the name of sexual liberation and freedom of choice.  It’s not good enough to say that the sex doesn’t matter.  Doesn’t matter to whom?  My husband’s sex with Pig Shit’s sex mattered a lot to me. It’s not good enough to say that if he doesn’t think about his wife, why should you.  Firstly, you don’t know that he is not thinking about his wife (he’s hardly likely to tell you) and secondly, when did two wrongs ever make a right?  Being a single woman is not a deficit model of womanhood.  Desperation is not attractive and only sexual in the short-term.


I was never desperate to have my husband stay with me. I asked him to leave when his strangeness became a problem.  I did not engage in any ‘pick-me’ dance; I didn’t even know that there was anyone else on the dance floor. Pig Shit offered to buy husband a new bed, get her breasts enhanced (I am well endowed), buy a kitten (we have a cat) and have central heating extended to the room that he would use as an office.  He told her there was no hurry.  No hurry, because he wanted to come home.  He did not want to live with her.  She must haveangry pig luxuriated in the feeling of having won but never realised what she was really competing with – the power of our love, our history and memories, our traditions and our hope for the future.  She was not concerned that I did not know about her UNTIL he dumped her.  It was then, that her faked indifference to me took the form of hatred.  Pig Shit cut me with a million cuts.  I guess that in her desperation it made her feel better.



Let me leave you with the words of Laura Tracy from her book; The Secret Between Us; competition among women cited by Rosewarne.  It makes for depressing reading but I think it forces us to face the unpalatable truth about ourselves as women.

“The notion of feminist sisterhood often leaves us with an aching sense of distress.  It denies what women know: that we can be spiteful, mean and malicious.  When we think of each other as sisters, we dwell in the dream of sisterhood… sisterhood is not a dream at all.  Sisterhood is painful, incomplete and occasionally humiliating.  It is marred by distrust, disapproval, rejection, bitterness, envy, jealousy, despair and hatred.”

As Rosewarne goes on to say; “womanhood in reality is a bitchy, catty, backstabbing dystopia.  At the same time, it is a wonderland of closeness and intimacy and the kind of understanding that frequently fails to traverse the sex lines.”  Isn’t this so true?  I’ve found the blogosphere to be such a wonderland of closeness.  Perhaps we are a micro-sisterhood?

Image credits: Cake Crumbs by artur84; Cartoon Character Pig Angry by saphatthachatDownload via


Adultery and the Future of Commitment

commitmentIf I’m honest, I don’t think that I had any strong opinions about adultery until I found myself at the receiving end of being betrayed. Why would I?  I was happily married and therefore thought it just happened to other people who were unhappy in their marriages; an exit strategy of sorts.  I didn’t think about it as a bomb being planted in a trusting place.  It seemed simple from a distance.  Plus, if you’re not told, how do you know what couples are about to implode?  As Wendy Plump (a betrayer and betrayed) says in her memoir ‘Vow’; “what does a couple with such an enormous smash showing on the horizon look like in the beginning?  Indistinguishable from all other couples”.

I was vaguely aware of a couple of people in our circle engaging in extra marital sex but it was brushed under the carpet and viewed, I’m sorry to say, as a private matter between the married couple.  A view currently espoused by Glenn Greenwald that now makes me want to spit feathers the size of an ostrich’s.

But our views are not formed in a vacuum are they; the media plays a large role in the public perception of adultery. They constantly fail to promote accurate representations of the fallout from adultery; the reality of lying and deceiving someone who trusts you, the trauma faced by the betrayed spouse, the time it takes to heal from it and the long term consequences for the children of the betraying spouse.  Instead they appear to luxuriate in the more salacious scandalous aspects, paying lip service to so called family values and traditional morals.  Equally, it could be argued that some TV shows and movies are complicit in actually helping to erode the significance of loving, long-term committed relationships.  From this perspective it looks like we may have an insidiously manipulative culture.  Anthony Giddens, the British sociologist wrote in 1992 that “a social climate has been created which endorses irresponsibility, self-indulgence and an isolationist detachment from the claims of others”  He was prescient in so many ways.  “Men are likely to drift away from women in large numbers and to regard commitment as equivalent to entrapment.” Is this happening?  What do women want?

For a while, post D-day I was too engulfed in my own personal hell to consider any of this. My private reality colonised my thinking for a time; my marriage, my husband, my pain, my betrayal, my expanse of wasteland.  But since then, I have tried to understand adultery from a wider context than just my own, and I’m afraid that some of what I’ve discovered has alarmed me.  Whilst I think that adultery is wrong and there should be more attention paid to the consequences of committing it for everybody involved, there appears to be a growing number of pop culture purveyors aggressively suggesting that adultery is inevitable (monogamy is too much to ask for)and that because of this, marriage as we know it, has become an arcane institution that we, as a progressive society, should move beyond.  Not, why might the institution of marriage be worth fighting for or how it might need to be newly designed with equal rights and democratic principles, but instead, a metaphorical sticking plaster of accepted deceit to cover the cracks of adultery whilst playing a form of Russian roulette with your marriage. Like deceit and happiness can co-exist.  Like you can just have sex with others and if you’re clever, nothing needs to change. Like it doesn’t make you a duplicitous character, not trustworthy and capable of grand deceit.   Like the Other Woman does not need to believe that she is an interloper in the intimate space and machinery of some other woman’s marriage. Sex is what you think you want until you get it and then you want all the rest.  Adultery is its own hell. How have we got to this?

Why is monogamy getting such a bad press? Why can’t we confront our achingly human desire for a relationship with one significant other and look to how it can be achieved?  Marriage may yet prove to be the most mysterious covenant in the universe and something to treasure and be proud of and YES, work at. Professor Janet Reibstein, a psychologist/psychotherapist whose research and clinical work primarily focuses on couples and families states “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”.  Much of her research has looked into what makes successful marriages  and her findings suggest that instead of perfect contentment couples strive for pragmatic solutions.  But this is not sexy and certainly not newsworthy.  Stories of great marriages cannot be heard above the din of reports of the failed ones.  Reibstein succinctly points out; “you can choose to go down roads that wreck relationships or down ones that keep them going”.  I believe that adultery is the royal road to marital destruction.

We can’t get confused here with open marriages. I remember the term ‘swingers’ – this described married couples swapping sexual partners.  This option has been available for years.  This is not adultery. Equally, if you willingly consent to your partner having sex with someone else, this is not adultery.  Adultery requires lying, cheating and betrayal.  It has to be a secret .  But who in their right mind would want to be betrayed?  Seriously?  Where are we going with this?  It’s OK to betray? As Zygmunt Bauman depressingly suggests in his book Liquid Love “What is hoped… is how to square the circle: to eat the cake and have it, to cream off the sweet delights of relationship while omitting its bitter and tougher bits”.  For Bauman the denizen of our modern society is someone with no bonds that are unbreakable.  No bond is guaranteed to last.  They are loosely tied so they can be easily untied with little delay when the situation changes.  We become “semi-detached” couples and are praised as relationship revolutionaries who have burst the suffocating bubble of monogamy. Lasting commitments are seen as oppression.  How does that make us feel?  Easily disposable? What happens to our “yearning  for the security of togetherness and for a helping hand to count on in a moment of trouble?”

As far as I can see, the dominant discourse around adultery uses ideas about longing, sexual freedom and liberation and uses these to reconstruct an alternative world with its own laws and culture that considers sexual activity with others outside the marriage a benign response to the individual wants of some poor soul  trapped in a ‘prison’ of monogamy.  Even a marriage saver!  It also applauds the idea that wives are claiming territory once occupied by their husbands and going off to commit adultery in their hoards.  But beware, as cognitive scientist Steven Pinker points out  “sex is not a binding force but a divisive one… but, conventional wisdom denies this”.  And as Anthony Giddens noted “sexual permissiveness is not at all the same as liberation.” Words such as deceit, lying and betrayal are erased from the narratives.  Adultery in its current form is maintained by directing attention away from the fearsome facts and repackaging the concept  in an acceptable form.  We find destructive illusions of excitement and glamour,  caricatures of frigid wives and sexual mistresses only too eager to please, and a total neglect of  child care.  In this cowardly new world which disregards duty, obligation and sacrifice, we spouses need to have a built in obsolescence (an artificially limited useful life).

George Orwell said “during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”. How does the truth that we know about adultery get out there?  We need to confront these social forces that are shaping our lives.  Society should care if we lie or cheat or harm others;  what we permit we promote.  I feel so strongly that we must not become inured toward adultery.  We all have to learn to make  the right choice against impulses, against desire and face the sacrifice that comes with it.  It is not possible to be happy all the time; life doesn’t allow it.  Why has monogamy been identified as the villain of the peace?  It may be true,  one person will never be enough,  but people are not something you use to fill a hole inside you.  They are not objects.

“Investing strong feelings in your partnership and taking an oath of allegiance means taking an important risk. It makes you dependent on your partner.  (Though let’s note that dependency, now fast becoming a derogatory term, is what the moral responsibility for the other is all about)” Zygmmunt Bauman

“I suspect the reason [that some people] don’t cheat is a subtle one. It has to do with not wanting to hurt their spouse, of course, but only partly.  It only partly has to do with their view of monogamy. In the case of those people most capable of fidelity, I think it has to do with their own honour.  A sense of self that will not let them score across their own pristine slate.  That’s a commitment to one’s self as opposed to one’s spouse… I used to think marriage was based on love and passion.  Now I see that it’s based mostly on loyalty.  Loyalty with warmth.” Wendy Plump

Image Credit: Bouquet Of Sunflowers by nattavut




Adultery and Its Collaborators

arrowsWe all know that it is our spouses , and ONLY our spouses who are to blame for the adultery.

I personally cannot remember blaming anyone else; ever.  We blame them, and quite rightly so, for individually betraying our trust and throwing us to the dogs of non-considered consequences.  We hold them responsible for their bad choices and our subsequent misery and heartache. The journey to marital recovery after adultery allows for intimate investigation and analysis of the betraying spouse and guilt and shame are the everyday passengers.  I know I have spent years living with what my husband did to me and his idiotic selfish behaviour that prevented him from keeping his ridiculous dick in his pants.  Adultery is not a pretty picture. Ever! But, the balm offered by his genuine remorse along with significant behavioural changes over time helps oil the cogs of the healing progress.  This doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven him or that I trust him.  It means I have chosen to advance our relationship rather than end it, enjoying the benefits of cooperation and support that only a long term relationship can offer.

collaborationHowever, I do not consider his actions in isolation from the situation and context in which the adultery occurred or the people that happily encouraged and facilitated the behaviour. I don’t know why, but whenever I start to take this track in my blog, I get a spluttering of responses which accuse me of not blaming my husband.  Somehow, holding others responsible equates with not blaming my husband.  I get given advice on what I should do.  I’m told to forgive the OW (for a range of reasons not well articulated) and to remorselessly punish my worthless, cheating husband.  It’s like there’s something awry if I hold others responsible for their actions which they knew impacted upon my life, but to be honest I think attempting to excuse others who were directly involved is a bizarre idea. Whilst I fully agree my husband should stand centre stage here, I do not accept that others, involved in one way or another with the adultery, were acting in any way benignly towards me or can be assuaged of the moral turpitude they were willing to engage in just because it’s over.

Alice Vachss who was a brilliantly successful sex crime prosecutor in New York, identified a very interesting aspect of the field that she was working in which went beyond just the acts of the individual being prosecuted:

My first lesson about sex-crimes prosecution was that perpetrators were not the only enemy. There is a large, more or less hidden population of what I later came to call collaborators within the criminal justice system.  Whether it comes from a police officer or a defence attorney, a judge, or a court clerk or a prosecutor, there seems to be a residuum of empathy for rapists that crosses all gender, class and professional barriers. It gets expressed in different ways, from victim bashing to jokes in poor taste and too often results in giving the rapist a break.”

Whilst not suggesting for one moment that adultery is a sex crime, her observations offer insight into the wider social context in which adultery takes place. Whilst my husband was, unknowingly to me, my enemy during the time he was committing adultery he was not my only enemy.  There was a larger population of collaborators.  Of course, the woman (Pig Shit) who knowingly chose to shag my husband and who hoped he would leave me for her is responsible for her choices and actions.  She was happy to collaborate.  She could have insisted that he leave me BEFORE embarking on her intermittent and infrequent shag-fests.  I suspect that she knew that she wouldn’t stand a chance if she asked for this.

The couple who actually introduced Pig Shit to my husband and went on to socialise with them together and who offered their spare bedroom for fornication purposes are responsible for their choices and actions. (My husband and I had been on holiday with this couple and spent many occasions together.)  This couple were content to mix with my husband and Pig Shit and my husband and me; keeping the secret safe.  The female of the couple was Pig Shit’s best friend.  Go figure – would you encourage your best friend to start any kind of relationship with a married man?  This female also gave Pig Shit my mobile telephone number so that that she could text me 48 hours after she realised that she’d been dumped by my husband.  Maybe this so called friend was more my enemy than Pig Shit!

Then the male friends who were happy to sit in the pub and share drinks with the adulterous couple; could they have found another pub to drink in and refused to collaborate?

Then the Dutch business associate who started to avoid me on the telephone and who met Pig Shit and husband on a business trip to Rotterdam. He could have insisted that my husband went on his own or went with me rather than be a collaborator to adultery.

All these collaborators decided that I didn’t need to know that my husband was shagging another woman. All seem to be of the opinion that adulterous behaviour is totally acceptable for my husband. Then I read so much junk about the so called inevitability of adultery.  The supposedly unrealistic expectations of people like me hoping for monogamy.  The academics who intellectualise the sexual antics but obscure any analysis of the pain of betrayal that adultery forces upon the betrayed spouse.  The social surveys that continuously churn out reasons why people are unfaithful without ever addressing moral concerns; as if morality sits outside the topic being investigated. Where is the research on the consequences of adultery?  Where is the research on so-called monogamish marriages that pay lip service to fidelity?  Does the extra marital sex remain a secret?  Is betrayal shrugged off as an unlikely cause for concern? What about honest spouses who decide to inform their spouses that they’re a bit bored and wanting something different? How does their spouse handle their jealousy?

There seems to be a residuum of empathy for adulterers that crosses all gender, class and professional barriers. It gets expressed in different ways, from frigid wife blaming to jokes in poor taste and too often results in giving the adulterer a break. Where can we find empathy for the betrayed spouses?

Why isn’t the truth out there? Adultery is a wasteland and it diminishes everyone it touches.  How on the one hand can we have people chanting ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’ whilst at the same time have women knowingly shagging a married man in the hope that she will have a ‘proper’ relationship with him one day?  It doesn’t make sense?  Where are the men with their heads in their hands, filled with despair at what they’ve lost?  All for what?  The selfish motivation and belief that you can have your cake and eat it too.  Well, you can’t and that’s the truth!

There are some serious issues here for all of us. We have to make our distaste for adultery explicit.  If we socialise with a spouse and they bring along their bit on the side what should we do?  Refuse to be a collaborator.  But, would we, should we tell the spouse who is being betrayed?  Would we want to be told if it was our spouse betraying us? If we choose not to tell the betrayed spouse do we become a collaborator?

If people knew that there was a strong likelihood that someone would break the secret, would this change their behaviour?

Image Credits: Man And Arrows by renjith krishnanTeam;  Unity Concept by pakorn via

Adultery, Prostitution and Male Sexuality

red lightAdultery, prostitution and male sexuality – it’s all down the same turgid rabbit hole I fear.

I realise that I risk being labelled a puritan, a prude, frigid even, but I am starting to realise that there is a world of sexual activities out there that are, to some, totally acceptable whereas to me they are offensive; particularly to women.  For me, my husband’s adultery has always had a sleazy, back alley, degrading, b-film aura about it.  The surprise is that I had no idea that I would find the act of adultery so disgusting until it was dropped like an eight gallon-bucket full of excrement into my life.  All, I can think is that I must have previously bought into the popular myths that portray a certain normality around the act.  For example, Douglas LaBier writing in Psychology Today (2010, a year before husband’s adultery)  suggests that “cultural attitudes have clearly shifted towards acceptance of affairs. They’re seen as a life-style choice; an option for men and women yearning for excitement or intimacy that’s lacking or has dulled during their marriage.”  So we have…”She was standing off by herself during a conference break, leaning against a wall, sipping coffee. As I walked by, our eyes met and I felt a sudden jolt — a rush of energy, real connection. Suddenly we found ourselves talking, feeling like we had known each other for years. The affair just happened.” Or… “It was a marriage stabilizer…safe and discreet, a perfect solution for me.” 

What does LaBier think that we learn from these ‘affairs’ (such a lovely romantic concept don’t you think)? Well, he thinks that some affairs are psychologically healthy.  An affair can help leverage us out of a destructive or deadened relationship that’s beyond the point of renewal. An affair can help renew our relationship with our existing partner.  An affair can spur us to confront what we really want from our existing partner and motivate us to try creating it. For LaBier, there’s always a reason for beginning an affair, and it relates to some issue in the existing relationship. As for the wife and family?  Well they’re not exactly ignored but they may well have been by his comment “there are plenty of consequences – for yourself, your children, your existing relationship”. Exactly what these consequences might be are not considered.

There you have it. One of the many non-silenced voices of adultery.  I could offer you more of this so called liberal approach that frames adultery as a form of sexual freedom, but I won’t because I don’t buy into this myth anymore.  Adultery is a moral wasteland which diminishes everyone it touches.  Instead of selfishly looking for ways to have our cake and eat it too, we need to recognise the character of long term relationships and learn how to remain monogamous and realise the long term benefits of doing so.  Make a choice to stay or leave the relationship, NOT destroy families and relationships for short term regrettable benefits.  Adultery is not a romantic affair it is abuse; a violation of trust and disrespect and contempt for the rights of the spouse.  The vocabulary used to talk about adultery needs to change to reflect the nasty truth about the experience for all concerned.  And I mean ALL.  Once the initial buzz of the new is over the real ugly shape of adultery starts to form and it takes no prisoners.

Adultery stinks. But it’s not the only smell down the rabbit hole.  Prostitution also stinks.  Also, some aspects of male sexuality are particularly fetid.  Maybe female sexuality is going down the same cess pit but at the time of writing, the sleazy world of prostitution functions only in direct response to male demand.  I also appreciate that research suggests that adultery is committed by as many women as men so this definitely has a bad smell, but for the sake of this blog and in drawing links between the three aspects in the title I do not intend to approach what I consider to be the differences in sexuality across the genders albeit a worthwhile detour no doubt.

Adultery is a new topic for me and one that I am still coming to terms with both personally and universally. Some of this investigation takes me well out of my comfort zone and just recently I was informed of a book written by a former prostituted woman Rachel Moran ‘Paid For: My journey through prostitution’.  This was well outside my comfort zone but I was overwhelmed by the profound, eye-opening narrative presented by Moran of the depressing and desensitising world of prostitution.  I found it hugely interesting to read the normally silenced words of a woman attempting to come to terms with her harrowing experiences of being a prostituted woman via the political, economic and cultural understandings that appear to function as normalisers for what is distinctly not normal (well, not normal in my eyes); the purchase of human beings for sex as an acceptable standard of human behaviour.  I found myself drawing remarkable parallels with my experience of adultery; “the nature of prostitution flavours the sexual act as far too distasteful and too sleazy and too bound up with degradation to allow any kind of wholesale enjoyment.”  I feel like this about the sex that occurred between my husband and Pig Shit.  The irregular and furtive sexual trysts all happening against the backdrop of a trusting wife mitigate against a wholesale enjoyment of the type one gets when in a one-on-one intimate relationship.  Another similarity I found between Moran’s story of prostitution and my story of adultery are my feelings of being silenced and the current prevailing discourse which seems to favour a dismantling of the foundations of monogamy, arguing for an acceptance of betrayal within marriage as an acceptable standard of human behaviour.  But, as prostitution “pollutes human interpersonal relations” so does adultery.

At the beginning of her book Moran notes that prostitution is not purely an individual experience, it is a collective and as such she writes from both a personal and a universal perspective. It is the same for adultery; we betrayed spouses share threads of experiences so common that they make up a basic shape of the adultery experience from the perspective of being betrayed.   And, as for prostitution, so for adultery, there is no glamour because it bears no resemblance to the truth.  As men who use prostitutes superimpose upon prostitution an image of it which to them is satisfactory, agreeable and pleasing, men who cheat on their wives do the very same thing to adultery.  Prostitutes themselves often superimpose an image of what they are doing in order to live with themselves.  Terms like ‘erotic dancer’, ‘escort’ or ‘call girl’ are used to paint a veneer of respectability over what they do.  Reporters are often duped into believing that some women are content and have no sense of stigma with regard to their work as a prostituted woman but Moran suggests that this is purely a defence mechanism.  I can see this happening with the other woman in adultery; they choose to see themselves in a positive light and erect a romantic fantasy to scaffold their shaky foundation.  ‘Other Woman’, ‘Affair Partner’ painting a different picture to that of ‘slut’, ‘home-wrecker’, ‘whore’.

As prostitution, contrary to any pedalled belief, is not a straightforward consensual choice the effects of the mental and physical turmoil that it engenders have been found to resemble post-traumatic stress disorder. “They don’t knock on the door of your mind, these memories; they let themselves in.”  This is so familiar to the experiences of being betrayed.  As we have no choice in being a cuckolded spouse but have to face the bitter consequences, so the prostitute has to wrestle with the slippery concept of consent in a powerless situation.  Moran entered prostitution at the age of fifteen which is not unusual; many of the prostituted are not adults.  Really, what possibility could there be of consenting to a lifestyle that cannot even be comprehended?  Reasons for entering prostitution are varied but it is a documented consequence of homelessness.  Many women enter high end prostitution out of desperation; those who enter on the streets do so out of destitution.  Equally, there is a difference between consent and reluctant submission.  “When fear and despair produce acquiescence and acquiescence is taken to mean consent, consent is not a meaningful consent” 

These are all factors that are new to my thinking and I have to question why this is the case. Just like I didn’t know about the horrors of adultery I had no idea about the horrors of prostitution.  I was probably also guilty of passing unfair judgement on the women who do this work.  I also bought into the myths about it being harmless sexual fun.  But just like adultery, there is no fun and it isn’t harmless.  There is an interplay of depravity that exists between prostitutes and their clients that can be recognised between betraying spouses and the other woman.  They both exist at the coalface of human contempt.  Moran’s perspective and vocabulary of prostitution offers a fresh lens by which to investigate the pernicious aspects of adultery.  Adultery, like prostitution “lives and grows, not just on a cultural or global level from country to country but on a micro level; in each life it touches”. We need to recognise its corruptive and corrosive character as moral codes become eroded.  “A consequence of a sense of entitlement – driven all too often by the priapic nature of male sexuality”. 

There is nothing classy about the sexual antics of a betraying spouse and their other woman. I have often thought that Pig Shit acted like a prostitute, exchanging sexual services at the convenience of my husband for false tokens of eternal love and affection.  Just like the attempt to frame prostitution as sexual self-determination simply doesn’t hold up because the prostituted women’s decisions are not sexual but economic, Pig Shit was not demonstrating sexual-determination in having sex with my husband because her decision was based on the hope of a lasting commitment not her sexual desires. However, the role of the other woman can be seen to resemble that of the prostitute; “the pornified objectified female – the subject of the sexual encounter rather than the equal participant.”  It is detrimental to intimacy and actively reduces the worth of women. This is why women who shag married men often feel cheap afterwards, once their ‘lover’ has returned to his wife.

Perhaps it’s linked to the male’s madonna/whore complexes. I begin to wonder if the sexual penchants of married men cause them to not share their desire with their wives.  Moran argues that this is one of the cornerstones that support the sex trade – “the male insistence on offloading onto another class of woman perversions they cannot reasonably expect to present to women in their lives.  Here, women are very distinctively divided into the respectable and the contemptible, the decent and the disreputable, the revered and the reviled.” 

Another interesting parallel to draw is the way in which people depict prostitution as this is reflected in what we read about adulterous affairs. “People who depict prostitution as glamourous usually view it against the backdrop of expensive hotel foyers. But what goes on is the very same thing as when lifting my skirt in a back alley.  The nature of prostitution does not change with its surrounds.  It does not morph into something else because your arse is rubbing against white linen as opposed to roughened concrete” This is the case for adultery too, no matter how it is depicted, the betrayal of the trusting wife and the trauma being inflicted upon her does not disappear no matter who the other woman and no matter how and where it took place.

Moran suggests that it is not possible for a man to use a prostitute without indulging in violation. The sexual equivalent of picking a flower in bloom and pissing on it. I would say the same about a man committing adultery.   It is certainly a violation of the wives trust but it might also be a violation of the other woman too.  Prostitution is sexual abuse, paid sexual abuse.  Adultery is also abuse. I have blogged about this previously.

Moran advises us that “the indoctrination of prostitution is very strong. It instils a sense of shame and culpability in a woman to the point where she cannot feel free to lay claim to her own feelings”.  Sound familiar?  We need to recognise the indoctrination of adultery.  See it as a struggle against how other people want us to perceive it, a struggle for our human rights.  “Where the sexual pleasure it affords men (Moran is talking prostitution – I’m talking adultery) is seen to be more important than the duty to treat women equally in humanity”, we have something going dramatically awry.    We have to be confident in our demand to have marital and human rights aligned and we have to see ourselves as women in the wider framework of male sexuality. “Non-prostituted women, many of them, have been schooled to accept prostitution along with pornography as something they dare not oppose as offensive for fear of being labelled a frigid-minded prude.”  Remember the response to people who objected to the business of Ashley Madison? A web site specially designed for people who wanted extra marital affairs, (because life is short) populated by men in the main.  It makes you wonder about the sexual liberation boasted about in the 1960s.  Are women really liberated?  Moran holds strong views about this.

“Some non-prostituted women routinely force themselves into a state of shut down in order to accommodate men’s sexual demands. Some women will go to very great lengths in order to facilitate superfluous desires which are presented as critical sexual requirements.  Many women who do these things do them not in an effort to please themselves, but in an effort to be pleasing and they are strongly encouraged by a mind-set outside of themselves which imposes a straightforward choice between being sexually liberated and puritanical.  There is no middle ground, apparently; and there is no acknowledgement of the true essence of sexual liberation which does not in any sense accord with having your sexual behaviours dictated to you.”

It makes me think about all the wives who play the ‘pick-me’ game with husbands threatening to leave for the other woman.  Believing, foolishly, that if they consent to all his sexual desires he will stay.  Like the other woman troll who informed me that if I’d been the whore my husband wanted he wouldn’t have strayed – my view is, if that’s what it takes, let the other woman have him!

How many times are we told that adultery is as old as the hills? Well the same is said of prostitution.  It is often referred to as the ‘oldest profession’ “as though, like a wise and aged individual legitimacy were conferred on it by its years”.  If something is deemed respectable it will be acceptable.  Just as prostitution is not respectable (who wants a brothel in their neighbourhood, women touting for business on the streets, their daughters or mothers selling their bodies, fathers and sons buying bodies for selfish sexual enjoyment) neither is adultery (who wants to be betrayed, have a father unfaithful to their mother, a daughter betrayed by her husband, a son cheating on his wife) and we should reject attempts to make it otherwise.

What about the defenders of adultery? The defenders of prostitution are the sex industry and they normalise the buying and selling of humans by dressing it up in a neoliberal discourse that invokes  the same concepts as those suggested by the adultery defenders;  choice, agency and empowerment. As defenders argue for the rights of prostitutes to use their bodies as they choose they overlook the fact that it is others who use the bodies of prostituted women as they so choose. As defenders argue for the rights of bored spouses to engage in extramarital sex they overlook the fact that the rights of the spouse at home are being violated.  The only ones with any real choice in these contexts are the men who buy the sex and the husbands who commit adultery.  Just as we never get to hear about the hatred, contempt and cruelty that prostituted women experience on a regular basis, so we never really get to hear about the contempt and cruelty of the betraying husband towards his wife or the pain and trauma of adultery that is experienced by the betrayed spouse.

And what about us as women? How do we react when we hear about stories like Rachel’s or we have a married man come on to us and flatter us?  Well, let Rachel answer from the prostitution perspective.  “If a woman tolerates this treatment of her fellow women, if she accepts it under the banner of ‘liberalism’ or anything else, then she must also accept that she herself is only removed from prostitution by lack of the circumstances necessary to place her there.” From an adultery perspective, if a woman tolerates being the third party in a marriage then she must accept that she may find herself in a marriage with her husband being unfaithful should the circumstances transpire. Equally, married men using prostitutes can’t be overlooked.  As Moran now notes “Every time I engaged in prostitution with a committed man I colluded in hurting some woman who had done nothing to deserve it.”  It’s a shame that more other women can’t see what they’re doing in the same light.

A tragic indication of the strength of the dominant discourse around prostitution occurred in August 2015. The well-respected human rights organization Amnesty International, voted to support the decriminalization of all parties involved in sex transactions.  Moran argues that supporting decriminalisation supports prostitution itself.  Prostitution not supressed will expand, if legalised it will explode.  “What is happening in countries that legalise prostitution is a shift away from the expectancy of decency towards the acceptance of turpitude.” Are we happy with the sort of world this creates – one we want to live in?”  There is another way.  Sweden was the first country to prohibit the purchase of sexual services in 1999.  A 2010 inquiry showed “that the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services has helped to combat prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes”.  Other countries have followed.

If combatting prostitution has such trouble where do we start with adultery? This is not a matter of virtue; it’s a matter of freedom.  The freedom to choose wisely and to understand the consequences that our actions may have on other people.  As David Foster Wallace suggested in his commencement speech to Kenyon College in 2005 “The kind of freedom, most precious, and not much talked about involves attention, awareness and discipline and being able to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways everyday”.  Marriage and long term relationships need to foster a compassion for the other NOT passion for the other woman!

Perhaps I’m getting old. Perhaps the future will contain more prostitution, more pornography, more adultery and I’m just plain old fashioned.  But if this happens we’re losing something aren’t we?  As Rachel Moran poignantly states “We, men and women, have lost each other in all this.  Is it not pitifully obvious that we have lost each other?”

Image credit: Red Night Light” by Pixomar