Category Archives: Monogamy

Men Who Cheat – What the Other Woman Needs To Know

CaptureSometimes I feel that I have arrived on a different planet. Planet Adultery.

A place where most people commit adultery and where we are led to believe that monogamy is unnatural and adultery an acceptable response to this belief.  What is happening?  Why is an expectancy of fidelity in a relationship now being considered unreasonable?  Why is the bitter truth of the emotional carnage of adultery kept secret?  Why is the sexual act of adultery flavoured with erotic undertones whilst the distasteful and often sleazy aspects of illicit sex and betrayal are ignored?

Before I discovered my husband’s adultery I knew nothing about the wasteland that people entered (by choice or by default), when an eternal triangle was created. A sexual or emotional relationship involving a couple – man and woman – and another man or woman. I think I thought adultery was committed when someone wanted to leave an unhappy marriage or wanted a bit of harmless fun. To be honest, I never really examined what I thought.  Why would I? I wasn’t aware that it was everywhere I looked.  I had no idea that the odds were stacked so high against the likelihood of me having a faithful husband.  I was so sure that my husband would be faithful and that if he wasn’t he should know that I would leave him.  There you have it – wrong on both counts!

I am constantly troubled by the enormous scale of adultery. I know we can’t ever be sure about the numbers, but from those that have been garnered the picture is grim.  However, just because there are a lot of people engaging in the behaviour does not make it acceptable.  My biggest worry is that adultery is beginning to be viewed as ‘normal’ and this will make it even more difficult for the voices of the betrayed partners and families to be heard.  As Jane Fonda said in her book My Life So Far; “It’s hardest to see what’s wrong about what seems normal” 

I have recently read a book entitled Cheat: A man’s guide to infidelity. It is written by three American male comedians who admit to having cheated: Bill Burr, Joe DeRosa and cheatRobert Kelly.  I have no idea who these men are but I got to hear about the book and was curious to see if their perspective could throw any light on the phenomenon that troubles me so much.  Overall it presents, not surprisingly, a misogynistic perspective but wives and girlfriends are hardly mentioned.  This book is about having your cake, eating it AND not getting caught.  Equally, they recognise that shame and guilt looms large in the game of cheating and they hope to wipe them out.  I’m not sure that they do. The sexual objectification of women is solely reserved for the Other Woman, the female that is referred to as the ‘mark’ aka “Choosing a Mark: Who to Fuck, Who to Flee”.   My recommendation would not be for betrayed spouses to read this book because we know what a cheater gets up to and how much of a dirt bag they’re prepared to be.  Instead I would recommend this book to any woman in or thinking about a relationship with a married man.  It would burst their fantasy bubble more effectively than I ever could.

Early in the book they make a distinction between two different types of sex. “To most guys, sex means something only if they are in love with the woman they’re having sex with. Other than that, it doesn’t mean shit.  But the rest of society begs to differ.” I do wonder if this is the case for many men.  I also wonder if some women don’t echo these sentiments. It’s possible that they do but if they do, these authors view it less than attractive.  They suggest that although it might sound awesome “she probably isn’t the most stable individual, and therefore, when she gets upset she’s capable of doing any crazy shit under the sun”. The film Fatal Attraction would be a narrative depicting just this type of scenario.

Men who cheat do not come out of this book with glowing colours or an endorsement for their proclivities and that is rather surprising. Their guide to cheating is peppered with warnings of dire consequences. “Think about it: you’re on the verge of doing something that could destroy not only your life, but also the lives of those around you”. 

The authors don’t throw much light on the why a man might want to cheat in the first place. They say that only the cheater knows but suggest it is because of one of the following: they want the rush, they want the romance, they want some extra passion, they’re a piece of shit.  They suggest the cheater asks himself the following question, “Why am I cheating? Why do I want to bang this other woman? Why is the desire to have some strange lady touch my prick overtaking my life?” I must say, this sounds like a reasonable question to me.  The important thing is timing.  This question needs to be asked before the cheating.  We all know how rationalisation after the event is a crock of shit.

Initial advice to the cheating man is to be aware of any woman who has immediate expectations of them. Expectations are not something that is desirable. However, from their experience they state that even if these expectations don’t exist at the beginning of the affair there’s a high probability that they will develop in time.  As soon as she gets strong desires to know your friends, spend holidays with you or swing by your workplace to say ‘hi’, this is the point at which the cheater must dump her.  “In the nicest possible way of course”. 

Interestingly, cheats can do a little quiz in the book to identify just what type of ‘scumbag’ (their word not mine) they might be. I was interested in the nine categories and share them here with you.

  1. Accidental Tourist – Cheats under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Likely to get caught because his guilt will be overwhelming.
  2. Rookie – Stiff, straitlaced, obsessively organised. High odds on getting caught as not relaxed enough.
  3. Addict – Lack of family structure and proper upbringing. Cheats on everywoman. Will bang anything. Odds on getting caught are high because of sloppy preparation and execution.
  4. Undercover Cop – Very private. Tries to appear faithful and mostly succeeds. His friends know but he will die before admitting it. Low odds on getting caught as he could be water boarded for days and never talk.
  5. Defensive Offensive – Sheer panic caused by insecurity thinking wife doesn’t love him and she’s cheating. Will definitely get caught. Over reaction. No strategy.
  6. Artist – Joins an art class or some such course to explore his creative side as a ruse to bang women. Won’t get caught if he’s happy to talk about the art class to wife.
  7. Co-dependent – Loves to fuck around but has no concept of independence or self-reliance. Ashamed of his infidelity he drags pals into his predicament to be comforted. Not only will he be caught but he will bring everyone else down as well.
  8. Serial killer – Demon with a million dollar smile. Senior position in the clergy or politics. High profile family man. Cons everyone into his wholesomeness. Unlikely to get caught as no one suspects him.
  9. Rock star – Good looking, powerful, unstoppable with women. High sex drive, few ethics and zero remorse.  Charms in and out of any situation.  Impossible to get caught. All blinded by his charm.  Teflon man.

I’ve pegged my husband as #7 the co-dependent.

There is sage advice when choosing who to fuck and who to flee. This is where their views of women who agree to be the cheating Other start to become clear and how the risk of entanglement with the wrong type can spell disaster.  “As a man in a relationship, you must acknowledge the immense power that you hand your OW the second you bang her.  Her ability to completely fuck over your life does not exist until you fuck her” I wonder how many men have realised this aspect of adultery far too late.  I wonder how many women have manipulated their married man so that this power is gained.  After sex, men have to be cautious not to be overly cool or callous as it is likely to make her feel cheap and she will want to exact some form of revenge.  (Don’t I know?)

“The reality is that the same way that there are a bunch of fucked up men out there, there are also a bunch of fucked up women”. Men are advised to avoid married women and to focus on divorcees.  I can only imagine that this is connected to the fact that a married woman has a husband in the background who may threaten physical violence but this is not stated.

Apparently it starts to get problematic if the OW thinks her married man cares about her but this is a fine line to tread because if they think he doesn’t care they will feel cheap. So this needs to be acknowledged.  “It can be risky to pretend you care about your cheat.  When you pretend to care, like it or not, you’ve begun a relationship.  And a side relationship is a landmine waiting to be stepped on”.  The advice is to provide some initial honesty such as ‘I’m in a relationship’.  This will make the gal feel special. “This guy is in love with another woman, but he likes me so much he can’t help himself”.  Following this he is advised to lie, to play down his relationship along the lines of it being in ‘dire straits’ or ‘damaged’.  This is to allow the mark just enough information to draw out her own fantasy about where the affair is headed. She’ll have anywhere from a glimmer to a wellspring of hope that things will eventually work out in her favour. “This guy is stuck with another woman, but he likes me so much he’ll probably leave her” Ouch! Close to the knuckle for OW’s all over the world I suspect!

The OW is presented as just as wretched as the cheating husband. “She’s no angel.  All that shit she says to you “You’re in a relationship; We shouldn’t be doing this; I want to but I can’t”, isn’t really meant for you.  She’s arguing morally with herself out loud.  Because in the end she’s just like you: a dirt ball.  It’s just that sometimes a girl needs an excuse to be dirty.  You have to give it to her.”

Then, after this manipulation, it’s time to weave “I like being with you” “Talking to you is so easy” “I haven’t felt this way in a long time.” Translation: “I want to put my penis in your mouth and then fuck you in the backseat of my Chevy and then go home to the woman I love”. Could Chump Lady’s UBT have translated any better!!!

I am left with the same feelings after reading the book as when I started. Cheating is a sorry wasteland.  Everybody is diminished by the act.

They end the book with a mention about women and cheating. This is a disturbing truth that I have trouble with.  It is clearly not a male problem.  So I have to work out why it feels like one to me? “Women fuck around.  The genius of women and their cheating is the prevalent belief that women rarely cheat.  That their main concern is not physical pleasure.  That they are more into financial security.  In reality, women are just like men: most want to have their cake and eat it too.”

Tell me; is this the legacy of the sexual revolution of the 60s?  Is this what liberated female sexuality is like?  Has sexual fidelity been removed from being a key aspect of an intimate and long lasting relationship for men and for women?  Am I the remains of an ancient species heading for extinction?

The book ends with the following:

“A good man is hard to find? A good woman is even harder to find. A woman that is 100 percent faithful is even harder to find.  A harsh fact.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adultery: Socially Tolerated – Individually Unbearable

It seems to me that adultery has become socially tolerated (the Ashley Madison hack provided a brilliant but missed opportunity to explore this phenomenon) whilst at the same time, at an individual level it remains unbearable.

Oscar Wilde wrote in his essay – The Critic as Artist – “As long as war is regarded as wicked it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.” Could something similar be said of adultery?  As long as adultery is viewed as erotic it will always have its fascination.  When it is looked upon as betrayal, it will cease to be popular.

Currently, the social tolerance of adultery rests on two complimentary assumptions. Firstly, the view that certain groups of people are able to comfortably commit adultery; educated, middle class married people who have the ability to hop into bed with other people and feel free of guilt and free of consequences.  Groups such as the London Bloomsbury set of the last century or the French for example.  We are led to believe that infidelity, for certain people, can be accepted and tolerated as a recognised aspect of their relationship.   These individuals, if it is to be believed, who experience painless sexual infidelity must have some kind of inoculation to protect them from the torment that I am enduring as a consequence of my husband’s adultery.  I wonder, does living amongst people who are blasé about adultery soften the blow of cheating in some way? Or, and more likely I suspect, is it a case of simply downplaying the jealousy, hurt, insecurity and anger felt by the betrayed spouses in order to justify the betrayer’s behaviour? Are the betrayed spouses coerced into censoring their emotions?  Made to pretend their pain does not exist?

Added to this pernicious perspective is a second common assumption, shared by Esther Perel, that adultery is everywhere, and as it has always been the case historically we need to get real and lighten up on our views about it and responses to it. Perhaps be more like the London Bloomsbury set or the French. She says her research has shown that people in happy marriages cheat so this suggests that “marriage is an imperfect arrangement”.  (But maybe it’s only imperfect for one member of that marriage; the one who wants to have their cake and eat it too!)  Along with Dan Savage, who believes marriages should be non-monogamous, Perel believes that there needs to be “new negotiations” around monogamy. No doubt these views will be espoused more expansively in her proposed new book ‘Affairs in the Age of Transparency’.  Perel suggests that an affair is an erotic experience and not just about sex.  It’s about desire, attention, reconnecting with parts of yourself.  About longing and loss.  She contrasts this with what she says is the American discourse which is framed around betrayal and trauma.  But you see, she’s getting confused with her discourses here.  What she is doing is creating a discourse of adultery from the perspective of the adulterer and choosing to juxtapose this not with an American discourse but with what in fact is the universal discourse of the betrayed spouse.  This is nonsense.  It is all part of the same discourse.  There can be no separation. The deceived spouse is essential to the act of adultery, and their perspective is as pertinent as any.  Betrayal and trauma is what the betrayed spouse gets smashed between the eyes with and this is NOT an erotic experience.  Betrayal and trauma is NOT about desire, attention and reconnecting with parts of yourself long forgotten.  But, without betrayal there can be no adultery! This is the symbiotic but toxic reality.

These two assumptions; that certain people are able to ‘successfully’ navigate adultery and that adultery will always be with us deny two important human aspects. One; the aching human desire for an enduring loving and trusting relationship, and two; the trauma that I believe is ALWAYS experienced by the deceived spouse as a direct consequence of the adultery. Michela Marzano in ‘Fidelity: Loving on the edge’ writes “Humans are happier when they accept boundaries, even though boundaries limit their behaviour and oblige them to give up short-term pleasures such as extra-marital sex.” Don Juan was not free. He was a slave to his drives and was unable to construct his life. Our desire for commitment is hardly discussed except as a cursory nod towards the romantic myth of the ‘one-and-only-soul-mate-for-me-on-the-planet’ which often culminates in a frothy and champagne flowing  wedding ceremony where everybody celebrates the loving couple’s commitment to each other.  Then waits.  Statistics tell us the unsavoury news.  Percentages are thrown around like late confetti, all suggesting that adultery is inevitable, divorce likely.  These data are highly flawed, as any close inspection will reveal.  There is no definitive research that indicates how prevalent adultery is or how often it leads to divorce.  Really, would we expect otherwise?

As for a possible inoculation against the torment of being betrayed – I just don’t believe it. If you love someone dearly and that person opts to remove you from being the central person in your life, how is it humanely possible to shrug this off?

Pamela Druckerman in her book ‘Lust in Translation’ provides an interesting window into how different cultures respond to adultery. From gay communities with men who trade a few minutes of pleasure for an agonising death from AIDS to the French President François Mitterrand and his mistress and illegitimate daughter, adultery is presented as a kaleidoscope of different activities, but “there are universals, of course.  Even in countries where people supposedly tolerate cheating, almost everyone is heartbroken to discover infidelity.” Married people the world over are devastated to discover their partners have been cheating.  As for the French, Druckerman states “French women are startled when I tell them about their international reputation for being laissez-faire on infidelity. ‘Would you want your husband to cheat on you’ one woman relied.”

Dig a bit deeper into any marriage where love still lives and if adultery has occurred then the trauma will soon become apparent. Even though Mitterrand’s affair has the French outward appearance of him appearing as a cultivated person, in reality it is far more complicated. It was a state secret for two decades.  His illegitimate daughter was publicly disclosed only fourteen months before his funeral.  In her autobiography ‘Mouth Sewn Shut’ she says that she was so traumatised by the need to ‘stay invisible’ she went into psychotherapy.  Her father’s adulterous relationship with her mother forced her to fabricate a counterfeit life.  Really, how can this be truly tolerated?  What emotional tyranny was employed here in the name of love?

In the Sunday Telegraph last week it was announced that Nelson’s spurned wife took love for him to the grave. “She was humiliated by her husband in the most public of ways, endured the scandal of one of history’s best documented affairs and weathered the indignity of being estranged.  But Viscountess Nelson, known as Fanny, was so devoted to Lord Nelson she wore a miniature of him until she died, a newly found work suggests.”

“Fanny has not been treated well by posterity, and suffered badly at the hands of her attention seeking usurper Emma Hamilton. She was not the icy wife as depicted but a woman of deep and highly charged emotion.”

Another sad tragedy of adultery can be found in the life of the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe. From reading her detailed biography by Roxana Robinson it is clear that she was a remarkable woman; talented and independent she would epitomise what would have been considered the bohemian lifestyle of the last century.  Yet she had no inoculation against the tormentGeorgia of her husband Alfred’s infidelity.

Alfred Stieglitz was married to Emmy when he met Georgia.  Apparently this marriage was not a happy one and had become sexless.  They had one daughter.  However, how their marriage was and how it was perceived by husband and wife can be speculated upon.  Emmy returned one day to find her husband taking explicit photographs of Georgia in their apartment.  She ordered them out and gave an ultimatum to Alfred to either  stop seeing her or stop coming home.  He chose to leave.  Emmy broke down and repealed her ultimatum but to no avail.  Alfred took his road to freedom and had the nerve to display traces of injury to friends and colleagues along the lines of he felt ‘kicked-out’!

The night he left he sent Emmy a note of apology which she kept all her life. She was enraged and humiliated and the divorce took six years.  So Emmy WAS tormented by Alfred’s infidelities.  This no doubt had a devastating effect on their daughter. A very difficult and distant relationship with her father and later, insanity.

However, and with a certain predictability, Alfred after marrying Georgia began a relationship with a woman who ensconced herself firstly in his studio and then in his love life. Georgia became aware of the daily letters and telephone calls that became a pattern between her husband and Dorothy Norman.  She wrote “The vision ahead may seem a bit bleak but my feeling about life is a curious kind of triumphant feeling about – seeing it bleak – knowing it so and walking into it fearlessly because one has no choice.” However, Stieglitz’s public betrayal of Georgia with Dorothy was a constant unspoken sub text between Alfred and Georgia and produced difficult emotional choices.  Georgia chose not to leave him but to accept his infidelity and respond to it by leading her own independent life as much as she could. Outwardly it may have appeared that the infidelity had no impact upon Georgia’s and Alfred’s marriage.

For Alfred and Dorothy, who was also married, the folie á deux developed over familiar lines. Dorothy wrote “I want to hurt or tear apart nothing”.  Her self-image was one of kindness and generosity and it did not allow her to admit that her behaviour might be damaging to others.  She professed bewilderment at her husband’s jealousy! “We never think of breaking up our marriages.  We are nourished by and nourish them.” Equally Alfred’s skewed logic of infatuation convinced him that his involvement with Dorothy was a benefit to everyone around him, including Georgia!

Georgia’s self-confidence waned as she watched herself replaced by Dorothy Norman. I wonder if it caused her to think about Emmy, Alfred’s first wife. Georgia’s subsequent mental breakdown caused Alfred both grief and guilt and he returned her to the centre of his emotional life.  His romantic involvement with Dorothy diminished from this time onwards.  Although she had seemed to stoically accept her husband’s infidelity, the price she paid was high.  Georgia was tormented by her husband’s infidelity. She was 46 when she acknowledged her need for reciprocated love.  She wrote “If the past year or two has taught me anything it is that my plot of earth must be tended with absurd care – by myself first – and if second by someone else, it must be with absolute trust – their thinking carefully and knowing what they do – it seems it would be very difficult for me to live if it were wrecked again just now”.

After Alfred’s death Georgia unleashed her rage at Dorothy at last. She informed her that her relationship with her husband was “absolutely disgusting”.

Adultery is a travesty of marriage. If one person favours infidelity as a way of improving their selfish life whilst the other favours monogamy and the sacrifices it requires, the only consequence can be torment of one kind or another unless the differences can be reconciled.  But, I consider them to be irreconcilable.  I don’t think, not for me anyway, that there can be a re-working of monogamy.  Social tolerance of adultery cannot be translated into individual tolerance.  People’s feelings are valuable things that should not be trampled upon.  I don’t know anything worse than betrayal for trampling upon people’s feelings.  There is no pain free adultery.

Inside The Adulterer’s Mind

who what whereMy lifelong best friends; the Five Ws and one H; a formula for getting the complete story on a subject. So, when trying to get the ‘story’ on my husband’s adultery I had these ready tools in my arsenal and have used them extensively over the years.  I have experienced no cognitive difficulty with establishing what he did, where he did it, when he did it, who he did it with and how.  Unpalatable that it is, knowing has proved to be very beneficial to me.  Not at the beginning I might add.  No, not at the beginning.  Initially, the truth burned like crazy through my head and seared into my chest where my heart convulsed under its toxic waste.  The nuggets of odious information would scuttle around the grey corridors of my brain, refusing to rest, tormenting me and provoking me towards either anger outbursts or sad shutdowns.  However, three years and counting since D-day, the truth has settled.   What I know no longer riles me (so much), it all seems a bit far away to be honest – in the distance – a bit blurred at the edges and I have no desire to look any closer.  As LP Hartley says in the Go-between, “The past is a different country; they do things differently there”. 

I’m pleased to say that my husband no longer lives there.

However, I still wrestle with the ‘why’. Don’t we all; the million dollar question?  For those of you familiar with my previous blogs you will know that I have stopped directly asking husband this question because he has been consistent in his inability to explain what seems to be, in hindsight, his insanity.  But the why will not subside. It’s like I’m Bluebeard’s last wife.  I have all the keys of the château.  I’ve opened most of the doors to the rooms which contain the loathsome and sordid secrets of his adultery but have not used the key to the one small room beneath the castle.  It’s like I shouldn’t  enter this room under any circumstances; I should walk away, but instead the overwhelming desire to see what the forbidden room holds presses me to look further.  Bluebeard’s wife discovers her husband’s horrible secret.  Is there a horrible secret that awaits me when I open the door?

It was Frank Pittman in his book Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy who first alerted me to the crazy, warped way that adulterers think and act. I appreciated his detached view of the betrayer and the havoc that then descends upon their lives and the lives of their loved ones.  It resonated with my earlier and present understandings.

It should be apparent that infidelity can cause all manner of problems, some immediate, some generations later. One would think people would know that by now.  Nonetheless, every time people commit an infidelity and all hell breaks loose, they look so surprised.  Even after twenty-seven years as a psychiatrist and family therapist, devoting much of my time to cleaning up the emotional mess after other people’s affairs, I never cease to wonder at the naiveté of people going through it.

I love it when he says “The dictionary says an affair is a romantic or passionate attachment typically of limited duration. I want the implication here of unreality, enchantment, illusion, and impermanence.”  Yes, yes!  Apparently, some of the adulterers he has come across don’t think their affair is wrong as long as it is kept a secret.  The fact that it is kept a secret denotes that it is not an act of hostility and is not intended to hurt one’s spouse.  Oh yeah, really clear thinking here.

Would you believe that politeness was a reason for male infidelity? She came on to me, it would have been rude not to.  Yeah, more clear thinking here!

My fascination (although not an accurate term – obsession, more like) with why husband would do what he did when he was in a really good marriage with me doesn’t subside. I sort of get why people, desperately unhappy in their marriage, might make a decision to commit adultery as an exit strategy. The frog seeking its next lily pad before departing the current one!  I am not for one moment suggesting that this is acceptable, it’s just that I see a why. But what if an exit strategy is not the motivation?  Our marriage only went sour after the adultery had started, but even then he had no intention of leaving me.  We had a good marriage.  We enjoyed each other’s company, got on really well, had regular sex and talked about growing old together.  So why, the reckless decision to risk losing everything he had built with me for sex with someone who clearly meant nothing to him?  It is clear that my husband had the impulse to commit adultery and have sex with another woman but the existence of this impulse is not an explanation for why he chose to act on it.  His flawed judgement and subsequent decision to commit adultery was an outcome of his way of thinking at the time in which the opportunity for adultery presented itself.  In my opinion it was faulty thinking.  He did not act in his own best long term interests.  He did not weigh up the costs and benefits of committing adultery; costs and benefits that would impact upon him and his life drastically. So what exactly is faulty thinking and can it be corrected?

Firstly, my husband’s faulty thinking can be described as irrational thinking. Husband did NOT think about his love for me, his future tied to mine,  our hopes, or my feelings.  He did NOT weigh up the huge risk he was taking.  But this is not unusual.  It would appear that we are barking up the wrong proverbial tree if we believe that when it comes to making important decisions, when it truly matters, people think carefully about their options.  This is a suggestion made by a new branch of psychology concerned with economic behaviour; behavioural economics.  Although it has been around for a while, it is only since the recent economic crash in the west that its ideas have taken root.  People have wanted to understand why so many bad economic decisions were made on such an alarming scale.  I desperately want to know why so many bad relationship decisions are made on an alarming scale.  There are some analogies to be made.

Secondly, from the theories of behavioural economics, in particular, Dan Ariely’s suggestions in ‘Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions,’ we would be advised to understand that  all ‘humans engage in actions and make decisions that are often divorced from rationality, and sometimes very far from ideal.” Further, “it has become tragically clear that the mistakes we all make are not at all random, but part and parcel of the human condition.”  Over a period of twenty years he has looked at what really influences our decisions in daily life (as opposed to what we think, often with great confidence, influences them).  Some of his findings might be worth considering in regards to the rash decision my husband made to commit adultery.  Maybe, there’s an element of truth when husband says to me he really doesn’t understand what influenced him to embark upon such a destructive activity.

Encouragingly, Ariely says “Once you see how systematic certain mistakes are – how we repeat them again and again – I think you will begin to learn how to avoid some of them.” For me, it’s a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted but nevertheless, if the ideas can go some distance in understanding the irrationality of adultery and or help to ensure that future decisions are weighed more carefully, then it’s a worthwhile detour, don’t you think.  The simple but compelling idea that we are all capable of making the right decisions for ourselves needs dismantling.

Seemingly, most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context. We are always looking at things around us in relation to others and this can mislead us enormously. Having a less educated and less cultured woman flirt with him, chase him, with a promise of dirty pussy would flatter my husband enormously and would be in stark contrast to what he experiences with me as his wife. As much as we have a successful marriage it is also an intimate, long term relationship that has had to weather the trials and tribulations of life together as well as the joys and pleasures.  Equally, novelty disappears, it’s inevitable. But, if we don’t think about it carefully enough, we don’t realise that our perception is being shaped in this manner.  It may have seemed to him that he had a magical connection with Pig Shit instead of realising that the enchantment was limited to his surrounding circumstances. However, making relative judgements is the natural way we think and unfortunately once we make our choice, albeit a disastrous one,  it leads to what is called arbitrary coherence; the choice, once established is repeated because the choice has shaped what we are willing to do and how willing we are in the future.

So, some arbitrary ‘lets-find-a-motel-room-and-shag’ event becomes coherent in its repetition. It manages to create sense from non-sense.  Each subsequent activity reinforcing what went before.  It would seem that our first decisions resonate over a long sequence of decisions.  So, are we nothing more than the sum of our first, naïve, random behaviours? For some people, yes!  However, we can actively improve on our irrational behaviours by becoming aware of our vulnerabilities; we need to pay particular attention to the first decision in what is going to be a long stream of decisions.  How I see it, is husband did not perceive how his first decision, upon meeting Pig Shit  was so crucial; he should have given it a lot more attention than he did.  I am hopeful that he would now.

There also appears to be a lure for something that is free and easily available that leads to making bad decisions. It might be the case that someone even gives up a better deal and settles for something that was not what they wanted because they were lured by the free. I know that Pig Shit was easily available.  I know that husband had to do very little to have her perform her sexual monkey on a stick practices.  As Pittman so aptly states; “Affair choices are usually far more neurotic than marriage choices. When one is chosen to be an affair partner, one should not feel complimented.  The most important characteristic of such affairees is their immediate availability.” However, with adultery it would be wise to remember Woody Allen’s comment “The most expensive sex is free sex”.

I am intrigued by the concept of social and market norms and the potential crossover in adultery. Ariely says that if kept on their separate paths, “life hums along pretty well”.  Using sex as an example he suggests that we have it free in the social context where hopefully it is warm and emotionally nourishing, but there is also sex on demand and that costs money. (More of a male pursuit I think).  He goes on to say we don’t have spouses coming home asking for £50 tricks or prostitutes asking for everlasting love.  Maybe not, but what exactly is the sex in an adulterous context? In the case of Pig Shit and no doubt thousands of other desperate dirt bags, she WAS giving tricks but asking for everlasting love rather than cash (Woody Allen was right). I would also hazard a guess that Pig Shit worked a lot harder for her so called non-monetary social norm than a prostitute would have done for her market norm.  However packaged, it is clear that adultery is a transactional arrangement and both social and market norms can be seen to be operating – causing life to stop humming along nicely for everybody involved.

Emotional states also influence decisions. Decision making under sexual arousal (a ‘hot’ state) is not the same as decision making in a ‘cold’ state.  In a cool state we are able to set goals and intentions but in a hot state these just get blown away, put off for immediate gratification.  In fact, it appears to generate a Jekyll and Hyde split in the person.  “Every one of us, regardless of how ‘good’ we are, under predicts the effects of passion on our behaviour”.  Who thinks about risk in a highly emotional state? Did the thought of easily available pussy arouse husband so much that he became Mr Hyde? Unless we understand how we might react in an emotional state, we will not be able to predict our decisions.  In a cool state we would claim to be able to control sexual impulses, but once the arousal has started, what then?  The results of studies suggest that it is easier to fight temptation before it arises than after it has begun its lure.  In other words, avoiding temptation altogether is easier than overcoming it.

Looking from one emotional state to another is difficult. Husband is no longer aroused by Pig Shit.  Together we have looked at it ‘cooly’ in all its sordid nastiness and this examination in cold daylight does wonders for the unreality, enchantment, illusion and impermanence that Pittman discusses.  However “to make informed decisions we need to somehow experience and understand the emotional state we will be in at the other side of the experience.  Learning how to bridge this gap is essential to making some of the important decisions in our lives”.  Husband has certainly experienced the emotional state at the other side of his adultery.  It’s a shame that he had to go through the act of adultery to get here.  However, I think that as long as it is remembered it will help him to make better decisions for himself in the future.  “Resisting temptation and instilling self-control are general human goals, and repeatedly failing to achieve them is a source of much of our misery.”  Pre-commitment can help with the delayed gratification of a long term emotional and intimate relationship. I now understand this pre-commitment to monogamy to be a continuous aspect of marriage that needs to be regularly revisited and discussed.  Monogamy can never be taken for granted.

Another aspect that behavioural economics addresses is the ways in which having options distract us from our main objectives. Pig Shit certainly distracted husband from his relationship with me his wife. Metaphorically, we humans are inclined to keep doors open.  I think the adulterer could be easily accused of keeping his doors open (whilst keeping the betrayed spouses doors as closed as possible).  You see, commitment is in fact a closing of doors.  However, it would seem that humans find dealing with options difficult.  “We feel compelled to keep as many doors open as possible, even at great expense”, because we just can’t commit ourselves!  Open doors suggest options but the result of keeping many doors open is extremely stressful (something we don’t recognise) and we can be guilty of pursuing irrational worthless options!  As Erich Fromm wrote in his book Escape from Freedom; in a modern democracy people are beset not by a lack of opportunities but a dizzying abundance of them.  “We are continually reminded that we can do anything and be anything we want to be.”  Ariely goes on to note the tragedy of keeping as many doors open as possible; “we fail to realise that some things really are disappearing doors, and need our immediate attention”.  We turn to go through a door and find that it is no longer there.  My husband’s disappearing door was our marriage.  The consequences of not deciding what doors to close and what to keep open can be devastating.

Expectations are also an important component in making decisions. What does the adulterer expect from their adultery?  “If you tell someone upfront that something might be distasteful, the odds are good that they will end up agreeing with you – not because their experience tells them so but because of their expectations.”  What are people told about adultery upfront? That it will devastate their life beyond imagining? Or that it is just a bit of harmless sexual fun, an affair with an exciting mistress, a secret to keep to ensure that the spouse is unaware, and an entitlement to happiness?  When Frank Pittman’s clients show surprise at the mess that they’d created for themselves, what exactly did they expect the outcome to be?  In order to reduce the attraction of adultery, I would suggest that peoples’ expectations need to be rooted in the reality of its consequences.

Then of course, finally, there is character.  This is something that I have been exploring in more depth and have been deeply influenced by George Simon and his book Character Disturbance, but for now I will remain with Dan Ariely to consider why people are dishonest.  What is it that holds some people back but not others?  Honesty cannot be overestimated in our lives.  From Plato onwards, honesty has been viewed as something very big and a moral virtue in nearly every society.  Apparently, moral reminders are the key here.  “When we are removed from any benchmarks of ethical thought, we tend to stray into dishonesty.  But if we are reminded of morality at the moment we are tempted, then we are much more likely to be honest.”  Imagine the scenario when husband met Pig Shit.  What if his friend, instead of encouraging and facilitating the adultery (removing ethical benchmarks) pulled him to one side and said that what was happening was WRONG, and he would not condone it (a reminder of morality) might husband have been inclined to be honest?

If religious, maybe you could read the religious texts, if not, maybe you could sign your name to a promise to act with integrity, but Ariely doesn’t think this necessarily is the answer, and let’s be fair husband signed up to monogamy not so long ago!   Instead, “another path is to first recognise that when we get into situations where our personal benefit stands in opposition to our moral standards, we are able to ‘bend’ reality, see the world in terms compatible with our selfish interest, and become dishonest.”  Recognising this weakness would be a step in avoiding the situations that foster dishonesty.

Stretching an economic understanding to a relationship issue is not always straightforward, but I’ve found illumination in the process as it’s forced me to think outside the conventional adultery box. When addressing dishonesty with finances, it would seem that people find it easier if the monetary reward is one step away from the cash itself.  Greedily grabbing a wad of cash is viewed more dishonest than a cash transfer.  “Cheating is a lot easier when it’s a step removed from money”.  So what might make adultery a lot easier to engage with?  What does it need to be a step removed from?  Clearly, it needs to be a step removed from spouse betrayal.  I suspect that the dishonesty of adultery is easily rationalised when it is removed from what it is doing to the betrayed spouse.  No wonder we feel silenced, our experience is what adultery wants to be distanced from.

In its behavioural analysis, behavioural economics suggests that we are pawns in a game with forces that we don’t comprehend.  We are not always in the driving seat in ultimate control of all our decisions and the direction of our lives.  Although this is how we’d prefer to view ourselves , in reality there are a lot of ill perceived forces that influence our behaviour and these forces we tend to either underestimate or ignore.  “Visual illusions are illustrative here.  Just as we can’t help being fooled by visual illusions, we fall for the ‘decision illusions’ our minds show us… By the time we comprehend and digest information, it is not necessarily a true reflection of reality.  Instead it is our representation of reality, and this is the input we base our decisions on.”  But, although irrationality is commonplace, we are not helpless.  Once we understand when and where erroneous decisions are made we can try to be more vigilant and force ourselves to think differently about these decisions.

I guess, in part, much of what we believe is rooted in our own philosophies and I realise that I am developing a fresh personal philosophy to take me forward in my life with a husband who betrayed me. I can believe that there are good and bad people, figure out how to determine who is good and bad and then only be with the good people (husband excluded) or believe, in the light of theory that all people can act in ways that are not in their best interests and make decisions on a whim that can threaten their wellbeing and that of those they love.  Understanding this it means work needs to be done to constantly reflect on our thinking.  Husband needs to be much more mindful of the decisions he makes and when he is likely to be vulnerable.

And me? Well, I’m quite good at making decisions.  Maybe I have a more developed character than my husband? Certainly, my decision to stay and work on our marital recovery was one reached at length.  It was not a rash decision.  I am also doing the best I can to heal from the trauma of his adultery.  Part of this involves healing from the feelings of helplessness that I experienced during my husband’s adultery and subsequently, post D-day.  Helplessness is one of the most alien feelings that I have ever had.  My blog is my attempt to help myself.  As the psychologist James Pennebaker’s research has repeatedly shown “the active and conscious process of trying to make sense out of difficult, confusing, and even traumatic events can help individuals recover from them.”  Interestingly, he gets his patients to write their reflections in a journal.  “This means that even when external events make no sense, we can benefit from our own attempts to make sense of our world”.

Slowly, but surely I’m making sense of the part of my life that was lived down the wretched rabbit hole of adultery, although to mix my metaphors, I remain in the small room beneath Bluebeard’s castle, so my quest for why continues.

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 freedigitalphotos.net

Lying and Adultery

marriageLove and Marriage

To be honest, I’d not given much thought to love and marriage prior to experiencing adultery. Strange don’t you think? I’d sort of taken the connection for granted (aka horse and carriage) and somewhere in the middle assumed monogamy. Now, I’m much more sentient about love, marriage, monogamy AND the fucker that is adultery!

Just recently I have been giving more thought to lying. Understanding my husband as a liar and understanding the role of lying in adultery. To help me in this endeavour I have looked at a booklying sam harris written by Sam Harris entitled ‘Lying’. (Thanks for the reference Iris). An American with the interesting and somewhat unusual mix of neuroscience and philosophy, he suggests that “Lying is the royal road to chaos”. A cheeky twist on Sigmund Freud’s famous statement that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.

It is not a book about adultery per se, but acts of adultery require a moral defect in people: a willingness to lie. I have read the pocket-sized book with the context of my husband’s adultery in mind and have found a number of useful insights from Harris’ analysis. For a taste, let me give you his opening paragraph:

Among the many paradoxes of human life, this is perhaps the most peculiar and consequential: We behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes towards remorse, regret, guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings.

How can this not be a book about adultery!!!!!!!

As the shock of my husband’s adultery begins to subside and it all starts to feel like a very bad dream, I find that it is the betrayal, deceit and lies that have impacted upon me more painfully than the sex acts that he committed with Pig Shit. In fact, I’d say that if adultery is the sordid sexual activities associated with any lets-get-a-motel-room-and-fuck relationship, then lying is the dark underbelly of it all. Lying and adultery have a symbiotic relationship; two different activities that operate together and depend on each other. My husband needed to be a liar to commit adultery and adultery requires lying in order to happen. He deliberately manufactured falsehoods and concealed important facts to the detriment of me. He lied to intentionally mislead me when I expected honest communication. His lies were hugely consequential to me. At the time, just before things came to a head I was exploring voluntary redundancy. An opportunity to take a lump sum and pay off our remaining mortgage on our house. Both of us together decided it would be in OUR best interests for me to leave my job. So I resigned. By the time my husband reached melt down and went off to live with Pig Shit, I had no job. I would not have taken this decision had I known the truth. For him, as he had no intention of leaving me he felt entitled to encourage me to take the money. That was when he thought he was in control. That was when he thought he could make predictions based upon his view of the world. At my age I knew it would be difficult, if not impossible to get another job like the one I was leaving but based upon our joint financial circumstances I knew that WE would be comfortable and I would certainly be able to find part-time work.

People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true. The more consequential the beliefs – that is, the more a person’s well-being demands a correct understanding of the world or other people’s opinions – the more consequential the lie

Of course liars don’t get away scot free. Their sincerity, authenticity, integrity, mutual understanding (all sources of moral wealth) are destroyed the moment they deliberately misrepresent the truth to us, whether or not their lies are ever discovered. If they are discovered, failures of personal integrity, once revealed, are rarely forgotten. The liar, my husband, had to ensure that his lies were continually protected from possible collisions with reality. This must be exhausting and all at the expense of authentic communication with me and attention to me. Equally, vulnerability comes in pretending to be someone he wasn’t.

As for my husband thinking that he was lying to protect me, Harris has a brilliant response I’ve adapted:

When you presumed to lie for the benefit of me, you decided that YOU were the best judge of how much I should understand about my own life. This is an extraordinary stance to adopt toward another human being, and it requires justification. Unless I was suicidal or otherwise on the brink, deciding how much I should know about myself seems the quintessence of arrogance. What attitude could be more disrespectful of someone you claim to care about?

Of course, lying is not the monopoly of the betraying spouse. Those silent conspirators who help to keep the adultery a secret are also transgressing ethically. Keeping a secret for another places the person involved in a position in which they have to choose between lying and revealing privileged information. Is it right that they lie to us? If we knew that someone else’s spouse was committing adultery, would we lie? Or would we be the whistle blower? Or would the bad thing that we knew about that spouse’s adultery (an act of commission) be followed by our failure to do something good (an act of omission). The problem is we tend to judge the former more harshly. The bad things one does is deemed worse than the good things one fails to do. Added to this is the dilemma that we might think that NOT telling the betrayed partner is a good thing. This needs more consideration. How can someone living under a mountain of lies and gossip be surrounded by friends but without a friend in the world to tell her the truth?

By lying, we deny others our view of the world. And our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they can make – in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is an assault on the autonomy of those we lie to.

Equally there are the lies that Pig Shit must have told in order to remain in my husband’s life albeit at the periphery.  What did she tell her teenage kids when she invited my husband round to meet them and have a cup of tea?  Here’s my new boyfriend.  He’s married to some other woman at the moment, but don’t worry he is going to leave her for me.  What did she say to friends and work colleagues?  Her sister, her mother?  Did she just pretend that she didn’t see him much because of the distance between Birmingham and London? When I asked him to leave and he went to live with her for a few weeks, what did she say.  Oooooh, he’s left his wife for me, isn’t that wonderful.  You must all be so happy for me.  More importantly what lies did she tell herself?  Self deception is of no value ethics wise.

It makes sense to want to be in touch with reality.  Given that your every move in life will be constrained by whatever the facts are, both out in the world and in the minds of others, being guided by anything less than these facts will leave you perpetually vulnerable to embarrassment and disappointment.  When your model of yourself in the world is at odds with how you actually are in the world, you are going to keep bumping into things. [Like the truth]

Finally, there is the link between personal moral values and societal moral values. The personal and the collective view of adultery and lying. We do not appear to have a universal concept of human values when it comes to adultery; everyone seems to make it all up as they go along until tragedy occurs. It’s OK as long as you don’t get caught.  It’s OK, I’m not the one committing adultery.  It’s OK because life is short.  It’s OK because my friends do it.  It’s OK because my friends know about it and are fine with it.  All of this eclipses the deeper issue.  It’s OK to lie and deceive the person who loves me and who I am claiming to love.  It’s OK to lie to my spouse and make her feel that she is losing her mind.  It’s OK to lose my integrity, sincerity and authenticity.

My husband’s personal ethical code and his approach to our marriage have both changed. Honesty is the gift that he has given me. However, we need to recognise between us that honesty can force any dysfunction in our marriage to the surface and we need the communication tools to handle this. We have to accept that our relationship has changed because he has resolved never to lie to me again. Collectively however, the bigger returns can come at the level of social norms and institutions.

How can we aim for some form of restitution for the betrayed spouse? Are we going to continue to think of adultery as a bit of harmless fun, something to do because life is short or are we going to prioritise honesty in marriage. If we prioritise and make important the role of honesty (rather than monogamy) what kind of judgement can be made for those who break this trust? What might be the penalties?  What could we expect from a marriage where monogamy is not central but honesty and all its moral and ethical values are placed centre stage?

If you know that you cannot lie, having an extra-marital affair is no longer on the menu- or, rather, to have an affair is to choose to face the consequences (most likely the end of your marriage).

If one wants to live a truly honest life, there is no substitute for having nothing to hide.

The bottom line is what type of life do you want to be known for? We don’t all have Hollywood endings. “Ultimately, we all die, and the only question is, what have you done between the time you’re born and the time you die?” Does your life reflect the values that you would be proud to uphold?

Seeing the adultery differently

eyeUnless you change the way you see things, they will remain the same.

This kind of makes sense but is it just another simplistic platitude?  Is it one of those ‘positive thinking’ solutions that have nothing but optimism at its core?  I’m not saying that optimism is not a healthy disposition to have but it can’t be used in every set of circumstances, and at times it can almost feel oppressive when you are in the midst of a personal catastrophe.  As Santayana wisely notes, “contempt for mortal sorrows is reserved for those who drive with hosannas the juggernaut car of absolute optimism.” Adultery is a moral sorrow and therefore I don’t appreciate the sometimes upbeat optimism of thinking that my husband’s adultery might be the best thing that ever happened to me.  However, this does not stop me from trying to understand what happened, and maybe, just maybe, along the way I will change the way that I see things.

Just recently I read a book completely (or so I thought) unrelated to adultery.  What a revelation then when I found myself sitting up and underlining sentences that resonated with me in regard to two key aspects of my betrayal. The feelings that I try so hard to articulate plus my thoughts about my husband’s actions during the betrayal.  I found so many parallels to my experience of my husband’s behaviour that the book may have had a significant effect on how I understand him at the latter stages of his adultery.   For just a short while, I have managed to step outside my intimate involvement in what he chose to do and have looked at some events through a different lens.

Naturally, every case of adultery is different, but for me I had no idea or suspicion of adultery until he finished it and I was texted by the Pig Shit herself to let me know of their multiple sexual encounters.  This meant that during the last few months of their activities I watched my husband in what I thought was the beginnings of a nervous breakdown.  He had reached a kind of melt down.  Up until now I haven’t really given this period of time much attention but when I’ve thought a little more about it, in the light of my reading, I realise that he was having a wretched time of it.  The fantasy had started to evaporate and he had entered the adultery wastelands with absolutely no idea how to escape. Any mental fog about the joy in what he was doing had lifted and his regrets at what he had done had begun.  This was all before I was forced to discover the truth.  This is not any attempt to excuse what he did.  There is no excuse.  Nevertheless it is a different perception to the one that I have been holding on to which gives the Pig Shit far too much significance in what was going on.  Whereas any woman willing to have sex with my husband could occupy her role there is not a woman on this planet who can be the woman who I am to my husband.

The mind changing book that I’m referring to, is Drinking; a love story by the late Caroline Knapp.  I found her to have a wonderful way with words and an incredible ability to capture the discomfort of my feelings.  Her articulation about memories certainly reflects my memories about the betrayal and encapsulates my frustration with the recurring thoughts.  “Over the years I’ve come to think of memories as tiny living things, microorganisms that swim through the brain until they’ve found the right compartment in which to settle and rest.  If the compartment isn’t available, if there’s no proper label for the memory, it takes up residence somewhere else, gets lodged in a corner and gnaws at you periodically, cropping up at odd times, or in dreams.”  It will soon be three years since my D-day but memories remain which belie labelling.

Caroline also captures the atmosphere of my marriage at the time it was going on.  “The thing is, hints of distress are like air: you can’t see them, can’t hold them in your hand and subject them to proper examination.” There was no tangible evidence of anything wrong in our marriage but I was subtly aware that something was awry.

There are a number of parallels that can be drawn between alcohol addiction and adultery.  Consider attitudes to both.  They are both culturally determined or, at least, culturally reinforced and contain myriad contradictions.  The drinks industry presents a very glamorous and romantic perspective of drinking and puts ‘responsible drinking’ on a pedestal.  However bars offer happy hours to encourage drinkers to drink more, supermarkets sell it at knock down prices, and the whole act of drinking alcohol is totally normalised whilst the possibility of addiction and/or health problems are pushed under the carpet.   However as soon as the ugly side of alcohol shows its face, as soon as the drinker starts falling down and being sick in the gutter, as soon as violence and/or unsocial behaviour is  seen and as soon as there is an outcry about the increase in liver disease, all attitudes change.

Likewise, monogamy within a marriage is placed on a pedestal whilst adultery, everywhere in the media, is portrayed positively.  The informal code of silence that so called friends and family comply with reinforces the behaviour and acts as a normaliser for both of the people engaged in the adultery.  But what happens when things just disintegrate?  When the adultery’s toxic bile erupts into the marriage and betrayed spouses crumble and feel like dying and children face a family breakdown?  Then, attitudes change.  Betrayed spouses are no longer the unsuspecting victim, wondering what the problem in their marriage might be – instead they have to handle an anger which rises up so fiercely it threatens to burst them; betraying spouses are no longer able to juggle the complicity or control events and people; the third party becomes more dangerous and desperate than ever to poach the spouse that isn’t theirs; society prompts the knee-jerk response of kicking the betraying spouse out followed by divorce, double quick!  The rest, the wilderness that is post D-day is airbrushed out.

As for the actual addiction to alcohol, I couldn’t but help recognise some similarities in how I’d describe my husband’s behaviour.  I just replace alcohol with sex and/or Pig Shit and hey presto.  Whilst my husband was unfaithful he would go off into “some little room” in his mind and “pull down the shade”.  Engaging in adultery allowed a seductive “psychic flight” which allowed him to leave himself behind.  There’s something about long-term monogamy, about facing the everyday reality of married life that shows you that strength and hope comes from the accumulation of experience and gritting your teeth and communicating perceived problems even though it’s painful and you’re afraid.  When my husband decided to be unfaithful he was unable to do this because he had lost the ability to make the “distinction between getting through painful feelings and getting away from them”.

Adulterous spouses lead a double life.  What a wretched way to live your life.  I believe this was a major contributing factor to my husband’s melt down.  The conflicting stories that he told different people must have whirled around in the back of his mind “like an acid eddy” constantly rolling away, overlapping, melding into one another.” No wonder he couldn’t engage in meaningful conversations with me. It would be too risky, he might trip up.

Deception is an integral part of adultery.   My husband wove elaborate lies to me about what he had been up to in order to align his working arrangements with his adultery.  Lying to me in this way kept his relationship with me, in his eyes, intact.  However, this duplicity accompanied a slow erosion of his integrity “dramas spiral and twist; lies feed on one another”.  Our relationship became increasingly ill defined; he would agree that his feelings had changed towards me but would not provide any further information as to why or in what way.  He developed an “unspoken system of withholding details from me that provided a measure of distance between us” but also kept our relationship together.  Often, he didn’t lie so much as withhold information or manipulate facts.  I guess that this helped him to rationalise his behaviour and maintain an illusion of togetherness.

My husband’s stupid sexual escapades required such necessary falsehoods because they were critical to the maintenance of the fronts he was presenting.  His whole sense of reality was tied into the deception and built into his facades.  He was not in control at all.  He was deeply fucked up.  He lost control of the script.  Pig Shit was demanding more, I was demanding clarity of sorts.  His dual existence must have felt bigger than him, as though it had a life of its own.  “This is an exhausting way to live, plotting and racing and second guessing constantly.”

So it goes on.  He lied, he deflected blame and rationalised whilst the hole that he had dug for himself got deeper and deeper.  Denial, first of the adultery and then of the self – stretches to include more and more bits of reality, and after a while he literally could not see the truth or his role in the disaster that he had made of his life, could not see who he was, what he needed or the choices that he had.  During this period whilst juggling his adultery with his marriage I believe that his life took on a “deeply fragmented quality, with different personae emerging and becoming more distinct and more false.”  He did not stop.  It got uglier and he carried on shagging Pig Shit.  In the process he became increasingly isolated and lost, stuck in his own circle of duplicity and rationalisation and confusion, the gap between his facades and his inner world growing wider and wider.  My husband was “living in a state of self-imposed chaos, lying and hiding and keeping secrets and feeling trapped, absolutely trapped, in the whole mess”

What intrigues me is how low did he let himself go before he made the decision to stop the adultery?   How bad did things have to get?  The elevator metaphor is used with alcoholism and can serve adultery too.  The adultery elevator only goes in one direction – down.  The good news is that you can get off at any time after you’ve got scared enough or desperate enough.  It’s a choice – get off or keep going till you end up without your home and wife.  Hitting bottom is normally preceded by a long slow fall.  I think I witnessed this in my husband.  Finally, the “impulse to control, and to worry, abated.  Fuck it.  It’s like the deepest part of his soul just said that – fuck it – and he plunged, justification in his hand like a passport to self-destruction.”  He decided not to sleep in our bed and that was the final straw for me and I insisted that he left the home.  He kept on saying “I can’t be here”, “I can’t be here”.  I said I HEAR YOU – so go, leave me alone and I don’t care where you go.  He left me and went to stay with Pig Shit!

It was like he was semi-conscious of taking this plunge and semi-conscious of his determination to keep falling.  I think that abandoning himself to a woman that he was being unfaithful with felt like survival to him.  He actually told me that in his head he was thinking that by going to stay with her he could work on leaving her.  Go figure!!!!  I think he thought he was trapped in quicksand and any move would threaten to drag him down further so he just stopped struggling to be with me and resigned himself to a form of inertia.  Anyway, at last, reality set in and started to chip away at his denial.  He was stuck between his marriage and his adultery and now incapable of being honest.  He was in a mess.  He must have had a split within him and he had to deal with it.  He never stopped being in contact with me and within days he was begging to come home.  I didn’t allow him to return for another month.  I thought he was staying with a friend.  Had I have known at that moment in time that he had had an adulterous relationship and was now staying with the woman it would probably have been a very different story.

Almost three years post D-day we are discovering a blueprint for monogamy.  I think we both missed some crucial hand-out at some time in our lives that could have educated us on the demands of faithfulness in marriage.  Adultery remains everywhere still, but not in our marriage.  Not at the moment and hopefully never again.  Monogamy is a struggle and doesn’t happen by chance.  Sometimes long-term relationships become mundane at times, it’s inevitable but we have to make decisions that determine how we see ourselves from moment to moment.  We live in an adultery-saturated world; it’s simply impossible to avoid it, but the havoc it wreaks is absent.  Adultery is a struggle with self-loathing.  My husband’s self-loathing that compelled him to get involved in adultery and betray me does not vanish overnight.  He has a lot to do if he is to feel proud of himself.  It was my husband’s opting for the trappings of intimacy whilst shielding himself from its warmth that characterises the year of his betrayal.  I sometimes wonder if he was uncomfortable with our comfort together.  We certainly had a comfortable life before the adultery and we certainly experience and appreciate our comfort in our recovering marriage.

Personal growth is something that we actively choose and adulthood is less a chronological state than an emotional one in which we decide, through understanding our choices, to enter and maintain.  My husband’s decision to return home and to face the consequences of his adultery is I believe his first truly adult decision.

Is agreeing to work on my marriage after my husband’s infidelity an act of generosity, self preserving behaviour or sado-masochism?

cheating hearts book coverI have been asking myself a version of this question since the disclosure of my husband’s infidelity (August 3rd 2012) and our subsequent decision to attempt to repair our marriage rather than seek a divorce.  During this time I have searched for answers in all sorts of places.  Books have been one avenue and I have just finished reading Kate Figes’  Our Cheating Hearts: Love & loyalty, lust & lies (2013).  I’ve refined my question in light of this interesting read and have found her words helpful in framing alternative perspectives.

Firstly Figes agrees that the monogamy myth is not a useful one to buy into when understanding marriage.  Sexual fidelity has become synonymous with commitment.  Yet, although accurate figures are hard to come by, it is thought that between 25% and 70%  of women and 40% and 80 % of men have engaged at least once in an extra marital sexual activity and it remains a leading cause of divorce.  She suggests that it is the myth that most marriages can sustain monogamy that causes us to rush to the conclusion that our marriage has failed if failedone partner strays.  Sexual infidelity has become THE Great Betrayal of modern relationships.  “An entire marriage is seen now as being flawed if an affair comes to light, rather than inappropriate behaviour by one party.”

Secondly, and I am in total agreement here, she suggests that beyond the mythic ideal of monogamy we know very little about the reality of dealing with sexual infidelity.  “When it comes ID-100186774to understanding why people stray sexually, and how to limit the likelihood or recover from it, we are still living in the dark ages of ignorance, blame and shame”.  She goes on to say “if society’s view of infidelity were a little more sophisticated it might be easier for couples to find their way through the trauma in a more positive way”.

For me, my husband’s affair has become a sort of epiphany.  Not one moment of sudden revelation, more a slowly dawning realisation of who we had become in our relationship and what we needed to do in order to repair our marriage. 

Figes does take time to consider the straying spouse.  I could not have read this earlier in the broken roadjourney because I would have been too angry but now I have the space in my head within which to explore these possibilities.  To err is to be human and she suggests that we could all be tempted.  “How close do we all come to sexual and emotional betrayal at difficult times or in moments of weakness and immaturity?”  Equally, where the betrayer is normally portrayed as the selfish villain Figes suggests that “an affair can be devastating emotionally, not just for the spouse who has been betrayed but also for the tortured soul who is doing the straying.”

I would not want you to think, from what I have said thus far, that she underplays the devastation of being the betrayed spouse or that infidelity is condoned, however she does attempt to place the actions of infidelity in a wider landscape than that of the individual marriage.  Of course, not all affairs are the same and some marriages are best to end, only the individuals know this – but I am looking to support my decision to stay together to repair and rebuild what I thought was a good relationship.   Apparently, many who separate regret it and wonder if they could have worked it out.  It would seem that our myth of monogamy instills in us the need to try again but rather than with the partner who has fallen from this paradigm of virtue, with someone new?

Affairs are provoked by any number of things; boredom, loneliness, depression, marital unhappiness or the desire to simply spice up life.  Circumstances also play a part and the timing may tell a great deal.  However, instead of recognising the pitfalls of any long-term relationships “we trust that love will be enough to see us through rather than taking responsibility for making it do so.”

couple n hearts“Sex with the same body tends to be the same-sex.  The passionate, can’t-leave-each-other-alone sex of the first few months, even years, mutates into something far more intimate with time, greater knowledge of each other and commitment.  But that isn’t the instant good sex we see in romantic films on television or in the ubiquitous, pervasive presence of pornography”.  Loving and living with someone else is one of the hardest things we do and love is effortful. I believe that the rewards of a long relationship are worth fighting for but it has meant talking honestly about what we lack in our relationship, what we need and accepting that we will never be able to tick every box of an unrealistic ideal.  There is no way that he can take back the hurt but talking about the uncomfortable issues has been very therapeutic. We have regained a closeness that had evaporated for a while. Research confirms that poor communication and unresolved marital problems are linked to affairs and some spouses channel all their resentments towards their spouse into an affair rather than face an argument or deal with difficult topics.

Following the disclosure of his infidelity, the betrayal I felt and subsequent anger and hurt was so immense that I was only able to focus on the drama of the affair.  This I believe to be perfectly normal and appropriate.  However, over time and as we have talked through the details of his affair, I have been able to look at the wider picture of our relationship.  “It isn’t easy to cut through the wounds and deep hurt of betrayal, however the costs are high.  We need to see the betrayal as something that has happened as a couple rather than as individual humiliation”.

We had promised a commitment to each other and “there is an inherent exclusivity to such a bond.  If that exclusivity is broken by an infidelity, as it often is, commitment to the relationship hasn’t necessarily vanished, it has just been buried for a while beneath the detritus of personal unhappiness – unfulfilled expectations, failed ambitions of love, loneliness, depression, boredom and resentment – that is the stuff of modern life.”

Perhaps forgiveness is the ultimate test of commitment and my staying to repair the marriage is an act of generosity.  I sincerely hope so.

sorry

Image credits: Failed, by arztsamui; Couple Sitting Of The Couch, by David Castillo Dominici; 3d Person Behind The Road Destroyed  by renjith Krishnan; Couple Hugging Each Other by David Castillo Dominici; Sorry Balloons From Computer by Stuart Miles all courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net