Category Archives: Healing


deceit-blake-mediumI received a short reply to my recent blog post entitled “Over it, an interesting concept”.  No sharing of any personal information and from someone I have not been aware of previously so I have no idea of the status of the individual.  From the e-mail address I would suggest a female.  The comment just said:

I would love to hear your thoughts on “forgiveness”.

I do wonder why the forgiveness happens to be in inverted commas.  When used in this way it is normally to indicate irony or scorn.  I have never hidden my struggle with the concept of forgiveness or its unlikely place in my marital recovery.  I think we need to be cautious about simplistic definitions and the easy platitudes that suggest we can only fully recover from adultery if we learn to forgive the wrong doer.

It’s not as if I haven’t considered it.  I have made observations about forgiveness in past posts; for example, in March 2015 in the post: Not My Circus, I wrote; “If letting go is forgiving and forgetting then I resign myself to a life of holding on.  The best I have achieved is acceptance and in order to affect this I have needed to firstly bring it all in”. In a May post, Anger and Letting Go: I wrote; “Forgiveness is something I DID let go of quite some time ago so I’m not bothered by whether this is a possibility or not.  I just want to be able to accept my life as it is now and the choice that I made to stay in my marriage”.  I think these comments kind of show how I view forgiveness in my emotional toolbox for overcoming adultery, however, I thought I’d take this opportunity to expand upon my thoughts more fully.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, I have observed that “forgiveness” can be used as a weapon against the betrayed spouse.   Forgiveness is held up as an essential action in overcoming the betrayal, a magic ingredient that can assuage all the hurt and anger whilst at the same time allow everybody involved to “move on”.  If the betrayed spouse doesn’t work on forgiveness, remains angry and outraged at the audacity of their spouse then their behaviour is somehow pathologised.   The betrayed spouse is transformed from an individual who has been significantly wronged to an emotional miser who denies kindness and mercy.  We have to be careful that pushing forgiveness on to betrayed spouses is not just an example of victim shaming wrapped up in pretty packaging.   Forgiveness a virtue, unwillingness to forgive, a vice. I do not consider that I owe my husband forgiveness and will not buy in to the idea that without forgiveness I am doomed to live a hellish life.

It’s easy to see that forgiveness as a concept has strong religious undertones.  In Christianity it is viewed as a virtue and a proactive choice that someone can make to create a process that liberates oneself from anger and resentment.  Christianity, like Islam does not require a repenting transgressor, so even if husband is not sorry we can learn to forgive.  In Judaism, forgiveness and repentance go arm in arm, so the betraying spouse needs to have genuine remorse for their transgressions.   However, in Buddhism the concept of forgiveness is not the same, instead it is understood more as a letting go of anger.  Compassion is maybe their closest concept to forgiveness.

Moving away from religion to a more secular understanding   forgiveness is generally regarded as a positive response to human wrongdoing, but it is a conceptually, psychologically, and morally complex phenomenon.  There is much philosophical disagreement over the meaning of forgiveness, and when and under what conditions forgiveness is morally permissible, required, or even wrong.

The standard definition of forgiveness makes clear that its main purpose is the re-establishment or resumption of a relationship ruptured by wrongdoing, in granting forgiveness, a victim of wrong re-orients a relationship that has been disrupted or compromised by wrongdoing. This is interesting isn’t it?  My last blog post was all about how my marriage is becoming re-established.  So, that act in itself could be said to be an act of forgiveness even if I don’t recognise it as such.

It is believed that forgiveness helps us to move beyond strong negative emotions which, if allowed to fester, could harm us psychologically and physically. (Although I’m not sure if there is scientific evidence to back this up) Equally, forgiveness benefits wrongdoers, by releasing them from the blame and hard feelings often directed toward them by those they wrong. However, forgiveness may also go awry.  For example if a victim of domestic violence forgives her abuser, they are inadvertently fuelling continuous cycles of abuse.  Therefore, it needs to be understood that forgiveness might not always be justified and may even be inappropriate if given to the undeserving.

Being too ready to forgive a betraying spouse may be symptomatic of a lack of self-respect. Aristotle believed that an individual deficient in appropriate anger is likely to “endure being insulted” and is for this reason a “fool”.   Kant suggests that a person who fails to become angry at injustices done to him or her lacks dignity and self-respect.   I think we need to recognise that interpersonal forgiveness is not the panacea for all wrong doings and does not always necessarily serve morally laudable aims.

It is also difficult to distinguish between forgiveness and the various behaviours often associated with it, such as pardoning, excusing, and tolerating or otherwise endorsing wrongs.  I would argue that forgiveness and reconciliation are equivalent notions, as each notion has the common goal of moving people’s lives forward by restoring a past relationship compromised by wrongdoing.

So, on the one hand there is the thought that forgiveness requires a complete overcoming of all negative emotions and judgments about a wrongdoer, whilst on the other hand is the idea that maybe retaining negative moral judgments and feelings about a wrongdoer are compatible with forgiveness. Equally, with a betraying spouse we all too often do not know enough about their intentions, motives, desires, and thoughts to confidently pass judgment on whether we can reasonably forgive them, and so the connection between understanding our spouses and forgiving them in the light of that understanding remains contentious.  How can we be sure that a change of heart has really occurred and that he is not simply faking it?

So, have I “forgiven” my husband?  The jury’s out I think.   For me, it really doesn’t matter if forgiveness happens or not.   So far, I am happy to say that his remorse and repair mechanisms have been excellent practices in drawing us closer and closer together as husband and wife.  We are in a very good place and that is good enough for me.  Maybe time does the rest.

Image Credit:

Blake, William, 1757-1827. To annihilate the Self-hood of Deceit and False Forgiveness, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved November 27, 2015].




Over it? An interesting concept.

finishedA couple of nights ago H mentioned that I had not brought up Pig Shit or had any mini-meltdowns for a quite a while.  He let slip that he thought I might be ‘over it’. 

Surprisingly, at his comment, I did not jump into his mouth, deep into his throat and twist his tonsils; instead, I just smiled.  Not a big broad toothy, I’m delirious type of smile, just a small one.  But, nonetheless a genuine one.  I actually didn’t feel the need to say anything.  Not like me.

But, over the past few days I’ve given some consideration to the possibility that I might be ‘over it’. That his adultery is maybe behind me and that this is what it’s like at the end.  Three years and three months past D-day.  After all, what does ‘over it’ feel like?  How will I know if I’ve reached this nirvana, the moment I have hoped for since the tsunami of betrayal hit me?

The answer is, regrettably, no I have not got ‘over-it’.  I remain devastated in the knowledge of what my husband was capable of doing.  I remain disgusted at the sordid antics that he got up to.  I remain disappointed that the man I love and chose to commit to was prepared to deceive me and lie to me for a period of one year.  To betray me and diminish my existence in his life for what, a bit of dirty pussy that satisfied his wants at the time? These memories have malarial qualities, so that even years after you think the shock has gone away,  something wretched can be recalled and wham, you’re reminded of the whole caboodle again, along with the accompanying emotions.  However, things are much, much better.  There is progression, a positive and growing pulse in our marriage that I need to recognise and celebrate.

When remembering and handling trauma, Freud made a distinction between ‘acting-out’ and ‘working-through’.  Acting-out is the tendency to compulsively re-enact the trauma. To relive the past, and to exist in the present as if still fully in the past, with no distance from it. This activity is exhausting and intrudes on everyday living.  On reflection, I can see that I was mostly acting-out for a year or so post D-day.  I was practically consumed by it.

By contrast, ‘working-through’ is when we try to gain a critical distance from the trauma, to be able to distinguish between past, present and future. By doing this, we are able to recognise the horror of what happened and even though we can’t fully disengage we can focus on the here and now and recognise it as different from the past.  By working-out the trauma we are able to reach an accommodation which allows for personal change and restored vitality.  This is what my husband has noticed.  I am now working-through the adultery much more than I am acting-out; in fact the acting-out is relatively infrequent now.

This is why my H thinks I might be over it.  But, the wound of betrayal remains and this in turn causes a loss of confidence in the other.  How could it be otherwise?   The worm of doubt remains and is observed in every action.  This will exist even if H is not with me.   Both to my husband and me, and to outside observers, our marriage feels as if it has recovered from the storm of infidelity.  We have found a place to anchor.  However, for me, the betrayed spouse, my work has not finished.  It’s not just accepting the past it’s about accepting that the future can only be different because I am changed dramatically.  And as Alice in Wonderland so rightly said; “it’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then”.  My recovered marriage is now between two very different people and I need to understand this phenomenon.

Janet Reibenstein in her book ‘The Best Kept Secret’ (her research into what makes for successful long-term relationships) says that each partnership is likely to have a marital trial by fire.  My marital trial was adultery, and you don’t get much worse to threaten a marriage. However, we know that some happy relationships have encompassed infidelity.   I found this book a welcome inclusion in my working-out.  It’s difficult to find accounts of the relationships that endure.  Reibenstein suggests that this is because “the stories of the Great Partnerships are obviously not being heard above the din of reports of the failed ones.”  What is clear is that intimacy, the core component of marriage is like all intimacies, not public, therefore marital relationships, although a world away from adulterous liaisons remains just as private and just as secret.  It’s as if we have the fictional and fanciful romantic genre of love abundantly offered to us in film, literature, music and the media on the one hand, yet find a vacuum when attempting to understand what the reality of enduring love might look like and feel like.   It is no straightforward or simple matter. “Love is a portmanteau carrying multiple meanings and a stew of emotions”.

It was whilst reading Reibenstein’s book that I started to realise that although I may still carry the scars of the adultery, our marriage has genuinely started to recover.  All the hours of screaming, wailing, talking, weeping, holding and breathing (and copious cups of teas) have proved to be key components in the alchemical mix of recovery.  The other big part of this mix is H’s continuous remorse and focus on the details of his current behaviour so that I am never placed in a position to doubt him.  He has discovered the necessary ‘repair mechanisms’ – the ways in which to express regret for hurt caused and awareness of hurt experienced.

My marriage is important to me and I am starting to feel that we have something that transcends the betrayal.  Perhaps I underestimated us as a couple. Our relationship might just be a whole lot bigger than the issue that we’re dealing with.  The adultery has been a point of rupture for us but isn’t this the real stuff of romance?  The story of romance in the original sense of the word meant tales of heroes and heroines who have undergone distress, sometimes of the most appalling kind, yet have survived, relationship intact.  And why not?

As Reibenstein suggests “There is such ignorance about the insatiable, on-going, time-honoured, and even animal need to be in a happy, secure, erotic and deepening union with one other person”.  (Note the ‘one person’).  Research is accumulating to support the idea that our desire for a singular relationship is innate and lifelong. Being in a marriage can be the central, transformational and ever replenishing relationship of our lives.  However, there must be no illusions about what this requires.   Reibenstein concludes,  “instead of perfect contentment, they [couples]strive for pragmatic, imperfect solutions”.  I think this just about sums up how I feel about my marriage now.  Seeking perfect contentment would be unrealistic; not just in my marriage but in life.  Instead, H and I are finding our imperfect solutions.

I am reminded of these words which I found many years ago and noted:

Even if I know a given person thoroughly, and I also know myself, I still have to grasp the truth of the unitary and unique event which links us, and in which we are participants.

Mikhail Bakhtin: Towards a Philosophy of the Act.

Image Credit: Completing Jigsaw Means Solution Completing Or Achievement by Stuart Miles:

Choosing to terminate reconciliation

goodbyeWhen is it time to say goodbye?

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 chump ladyas 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

I would NEVER stay with my husband if he cheated!

no chanceI’ve heard it! Haven’t you?

So… many… times…  So confident in its delivery. Never, never, never, NEVER!  If I discovered my husband was unfaithful he would be history.  Well, bravo to you and to your confidence!

You see,  this is exactly what I said BEFORE I discovered my husband’s adultery. I believe this is what every wife says whilst in her marriage and her husband is (or she believes he is) faithful. Really, think about it, what woman marries a man thinking that if he were to decide to cheat on her she would be alright with it. OK, perhaps not alright with it, but of the opinion that it would not be grounds for splitting up.

Now, some women, agree to open marriages. This is different. This means that there is no betrayal, lies or deceit. She is aware of exactly what her husband’s sexual activities are. Of course she won’t leave her husband if he has sex with someone who she has consented to. Why would she? Unless, she gets fed up with the idea one day and then lets him know that she doesn’t want it anymore and if he can’t change she will have to leave him. Again, that’s different. Interestingly, even open marriages can suffer from the shit created by adultery. You see, if a husband in an open marriage decides that he is not going to be honest about everyone he shags and opts to lie and deceive his wife, he is committing adultery. A wife in an open marriage would experience the same levels of betrayal. Not something she signed up for.

In monogamous marriages there are, without doubt, women who do not stay with their husband after adultery and do not even attempt any reconciliation. This may be because when they thought about their marriage it was deemed not worth saving. The adultery was the death knell of an already dying marriage. Maybe their marriage was on the rocks and heading for divorce anyway. Perhaps the adultery just speeded up the journey. They may also decide to leave their husband because they really don’t want to stay with a man who they know has cheated on them. It really is too big an ask. They find out that they will never stay with a husband who cheated! They recognise that it would be impossible to heal whilst still with their husband. (Equally, I don’t think any wife should stay with her husband only because she fears divorce. This is not reason enough to stay and in the long run will probably cause further heartache). I respect the choice to leave as much as I respect women who choose to stay and attempt reconciliation. The journey is no easier than staying but a new life can be created from the ashes of the old after the healing has taken place whether together or apart.

There are also women who choose to stay and work on their marriage but decide to leave at a later time because the marriage has not developed in the way they had hoped. After exhausting all the other options for reconciliation it has not worked out as expected. Unfortunately, neither staying or leaving is an easy option but they are the only options available to the betrayed wife. Both options create huge, big life changes and alterations of perceptions.

You see, what I’m trying to say is, you really don’t know what you will do until you are faced with the situation. We can surprise ourselves. I always feel an intense sense of awe when I read about the resistance fighters in the Second World War. I cannot, absolutely cannot believe the bravery they showed in the face of such terrors. I feel ashamed that I would be a coward. BUT, the truth is, until I was to find myself in that particular situation (and I really hope this never happens) I have no idea if I would be brave or not.

There is no shame in staying and there is no shame in leaving a betraying spouse. Once we get out of the romantic syrup of Hollywood and start to confront the demands of the human condition we start to see the complexities of all relationships. Acting aghast that someone might stay with a straying partner is ingenuous in the least and spiteful at the most.

From what I have discovered about adultery I now think I see it everywhere. It’s as if we need adultery to understand monogamy better. It’s a terrible waste of human emotion and the collateral damage is horrifying but it seems it sharpens the understanding of what it takes for monogamy to be rooted at the centre of the marriage. I wonder how many betraying husbands have found themselves in a hole that they have dug (with the help of the OW) and they can’t get out because they’re frightened of their wives finding out and leaving them. What about an amnesty? Let’s STOP the adultery and work on monogamy. Admit to the deceit and betrayal, find out what you have to do to stand any chance in having an honest and committed marriage. We seem to sleep walk into extra marital relationships yet stumble and fall horrendously when respecting and retaining a monogamous relationship.

I’m three years into my post D-day marriage. I know a great deal about adultery and am fortunate to have a strong marriage back in place which understands what we have to value in order to sustain it. Staying, with a husband who wants to help you to heal from the pain that he inflicted and who is truly remorseful is not an easy option but for me it has proved the best option.

For all of you women who are just starting out on what you hope to be the road of recovery I wish you courage for the journey as you learn to accept that you are a woman who has chosen to stay with her husband after adultery.  This may be an aspect of yourself that you never knew even existed! But you are choosing this because you hope, in the end, he is worth it!

Image Credit: No Chance Means Not At All And Decline by Stuart Miles/

Marriage After Adultery

kintsugiWhat does it look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: heartbook by duron123 via

Coping With Betrayal: My Secret Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the truth of adultery starts to leak…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually meeting the OW…

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

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

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

A perspective from the OW…

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

The realisation of the invasion of your marriage…

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

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

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

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

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

The continuous shape-shifting narrative of adultery…

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

The living with the constant triggers…

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

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

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

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

A Difficult Christmas

xmasI have not written a blog post since October and realise that I have gotten out of the habit now.  To be honest, I was questioning my motives for writing about the whole thing anyway.  I had started to wonder if by continuing to write blog posts I was just picking at the scabs of my wounds and preventing healing.  On reflection, two months down the line and a difficult Christmas, I don’t believe that blogging has had any negative effect on my dealing with adultery. I have no idea if it actually helps but it’s difficult to contain the mixed emotions that remain cluttered in my head without some form of outlet.

So D-day for me was August 3rd 2012.  That’s when Pig Shit texted me to let me know what she had been doing with my husband.  So I have been dealing with the knowledge of my husband’s adultery for 2 years and 5 months.  My husband had been shagging this woman since September 2011.  However, I realise now that it’s not the time since D-day that is my problem.  Since D-day my husband has done everything that is possible to make amends.  I cannot fault his commitment to repairing our marriage and could not ask him for anything else.  It is the time span between September 2011 and August 2012 that causes me all my grief.  I still get pulled up short when I realise stuff around the betrayal that had previously gone below my radar.

Twice, over Christmas, events have crept into my consciousness and caused havoc with my physiology.  The shaking, the shivers down my spine, the stomach flip that makes me initially feel sick and then rushes me to the toilet.  The dry mouth, the panic, the rage that starts to burn inside baubleme.  The first event was putting up the tree.  As I was doing this I realised that I had been doing the same thing in December 2011.  I was making all the preparations, getting excited, organising family to come over, collecting the turkey, putting all the twinkly lights up.  My husband was also doing all the Christmassy things with me.  BUT, but… in December 2011 he was doing all these things knowing that he was going to schedule a shagging date for him and Pig Shit.  He would have been texting her and ringing her at any opportunity that he could find.  Whilst I, in all my naivety, smiled and laughed  and sang silly Christmas tunes.  How can someone do this?  How could he have happily done this?  I sat down in the middle of decorating the tree and wept.  My husband wanted to know why and I told him, angrily and violently.  He apologised and apologised as he always does.  Said how much he regrets doing what he did and how he values what he has.  However, the sadness and disappointment in my heart would not leave and it has made me question, again, whether I have done the right thing in staying together.

red laceThe second event is closely related.  My husband and I met on December 20th 2002.  We have always celebrated this anniversary as well as our later wedding anniversary which is in May.  This year my husband organised a dinner and overnight stay in a hotel and I dressed in my new red lace dress.  We did have a lovely time.  However, a few days later, whilst in the shower, it dawned on me that in December 2011 we would have been celebrating knowing each other for nine years whilst he was shagging Pig Shit.  I wanted to put these pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together.  As I have all the dates and whereabouts of their sordid antics it is very easy for me.  I discover that after our anniversary event on the 20th, he arranged to shag Pig Shit on the 22nd!!!!  This makes me feel sick.  It’s funny how this had not dawned on me before.  It’s like all the pieces of the jigsaw have to be assembled somehow.  I was still wet from the shower, with my towel wrapped round me when I attacked my husband for this behaviour.

It exhausts me.  When will the emotions that his adultery triggers subside?    tiredI can see why couples separate after adultery.  It must seem like the easier option.  Staying together is very challenging – well, it is for me.  This in turn makes it difficult for my husband.  No matter what he does he can’t make amends for what he did.  He cannot turn back the clock and make a better choice.  I would just love to forget what he did so why can’t I bury it some place?

Image Credits: Tree by Suat Eman; Hand Holding Christmas Ball & Feet Sticking Out Of Blanket by FrameAngel; all via