When confronted with the truth that my husband committed adultery my first reaction was to tell him to fuck off. Repeatedly. I did this whilst hitting him. I did this whilst crying. When you move a boundary, life changes violently.
I don’t know for sure when the moment was that I decided to let him stay along with the possibility that I would be prepared to consider a reconciliation of our marriage. Well, the truth is, the decision to let him stay must have been pretty immediate. I didn’t throw him out. However, for me, our remaining together was only initially a temporary measure because it was totally dependent upon whether I felt our marriage stood a chance of surviving the carnage that he had placed at our marital door. Initially, I did not have a clue as to whether we might survive or what measures might work in our favour. The last three years have been acts of improvisation, sometimes, desperately so, but I’m confident that we are well on our way to marital recovery and remain committed to the remaining lifetime’s work that will be necessary to protect the intimacy and monogamy that is so very precious to me.
I remember being completely thrown off balance by the truth of his adultery. It placed me in a situation where a decision needed to be made at a time when I had no idea what might be best for me. Having to make a forced decision put me into a place where I had no choice except to accept what had occurred and to work with what existed between us. There were two stark choices for me: divorce or stay. However, I realise now that whereas choosing to divorce is absolute (unless you get back together) staying, if it does not provide the necessary ingredients for healing and recovery can become a landscape of its own unique horrors. It can’t be reconciliation at any price, that will just prolong the agony! Reconciliation needs to build on what exists between two married people post adultery. It might be only weak foundations to begin with but with the right amount of emotional work (and this will vary enormously between couples) the decision to stay can be a route to recovery and a life of promise.
However, instead of genuine remorse and a willingness to face the responsibility of adultery , what if the betraying spouse fails to step up to the plate? What if the isolation of betrayal doesn’t go away? What if suspicions aren’t assuaged? What if the selfishness and cruelty continues? What if the betrayed spouse finds herself just an option in her husband’s life and is forced to play the tragic ‘pick-me, pick-me’, game? I realise that it can’t be an easy decision to make but I do believe that there are situations in which terminating the reconciliation is a wise decision. Leave a cheater in order to get a life!
Chump Lady is one of my preferred ‘alternative’ blog sites. Alternate, in as much as she made the decision NOT to reconcile with her serial cheater husband (mind you, she did try for over a year) and alternate in that she uses acerbic humour mixed with a certain schadenfreude which is not for the sensitive. But, she has been betrayed, knows what it’s like and still retains her compassion for those of us who have been cheated on (chumps). Not everybody’s ‘cup of tea’ (and I didn’t warm to it when I first found it) it is not a site optimistic about reconciliation. She likens reconciliation to a unicorn, a mythical creature we want to believe in, but which is seldom seen. So, no advice here about saving a marriage but lots of reality slaps to help save your sanity if you think that it’s time to say goodbye. Chump Lady states it clearly:
Even with the rare remorseful spouse the days after D-day are so very hard. Now, imagine the far more common scenario in which the person isn’t one bit remorseful. No, they’re pissed off that they’ve been discovered. They ramp up the blame-shifting and the gas-lighting. STAY WITH THAT?
She has an interesting post about whether the remorse felt by the cheater is real or imitation.
So, why stay if the abuse continues? Perhaps there are no rational answers. I do understand that no matter how unhappy we may be in our marriage there is a tendency to revisit the possibility of making it work because it is tied to an image of ourselves, of who we expected to become and the future we had hoped to inhabit. With the continuing emotional abuse we become disorientated and our reactions and responses are not what they would normally be and maybe we find ourselves lost, confused and incapable of acting independently. Adam Phillips, a British psychoanalyst (thanks for yet another recommendation Iris) suggests that “we learn to live somewhere between the lives we have and the lives we would like.” We lead a parallel life in our heads. Now, whereas life in general will always have us balanced somewhere between the two, experiencing betrayal and not having this pain rightfully recognised and respected or worse, ignored, will throw these two aspects into stark relief during any reconciliation.
I watched a disturbing TED talk the other day (via Chump Lady) by Leslie Morgan Steiner who talked about why victims of domestic violence don’t leave. It’s a harrowing personal story but she owns up to a warped way of thinking that kept her tied into a very physically abusive marriage. Steiner says two things: One, she didn’t KNOW it was abuse; and two, she told herself that she was a very strong woman in love with a very troubled man, and only she could save him. That’s why she stayed with her abusive husband.
Are there echoes of her story of physical abuse to be found in infidelity? If we agree to reconciliation but our betraying spouse does not do anything to help us heal or is repeatedly indifferent to our pain do we recognise this as abuse? Is there a narrative which can be adopted which reframes this unacceptable abuse into an acceptable reversal of expectations. The betrayed spouse is expected to bend to the needs of the betraying spouse?
Making the decision to let go; to leave everything behind and leap into the unknown is a fearsome thought but what are the alternative options? A life of continued abuse? My heart goes out to women confronted by these scenarios. I have found reconciliation a tremendously difficult and painful journey (still do on occasions) so cannot imagine how much more heart-breaking it must be to be with a spouse who adds insult to injury.
Please, you have a life to live and you can do things you didn’t realise you were capable of. Love yourself. As in the words of the song “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”.
Image credit: Time For Goodbyes Message Means Farewell Or Bye by Stuart Miles freedigitalphotos.net