A 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: freedigitalphotos.net