Once 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?
The 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 hands 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