Like all of us, I thought that the answers would eventually come from my husband. The truth is, they may do but in three and a half years since D-day I’ve been unable to obtain satisfactory responses to the why he behaved as he did. The three major responses have been: ‘I was a f**king idiot’ (accurate yes, helpful, no!); ‘I don’t remember’; and ‘It was just sex’. It’s difficult to buy the memory answer. I suspect that he does remember, but I’m inclined to think that the motivation was so banal and basic that there aren’t the words for him to offer any meaningful comprehension. I also don’t buy that it was just sex. I do think that, probably, sex was all it was after a few initial shags over a few months but in the beginning I believe it was more than just sex but he’s not prepared to admit it. Obviously I have discussed my disbeliefs with husband but it doesn’t get me very far. He thinks I’m looking too deep and there aren’t any deep answers. She was available for dirty sex, he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants and thought he could have his cake and eat it too.
Another big obstacle in moving through the whys is that I really cannot understand how he could do this to me. However, I realise now that this is because I cannot imagine doing this to him. My thinking cannot encapsulate the overwhelming idea of betraying him. I can’t possibly understand the how because for me it would be impossible to cheat and then lie to him. I know that I would be unable to, without immeasurable discomfort and heartache to look into his eyes, have sex with him, and tell him I loved him when behind his back I was sharing my intimacies with another man. So, I’ve started to think along the lines that my husband might simply possess a character I had not understood fully prior to the adultery and that this character possesses a dysfunctional way of thinking not aligned to my values at all in regards to fidelity.
My own take on why husband committed adultery, without information to the contrary, has become very basic and incredibly unpleasant. Clearly, he did it because he LIKED it. More than that, he thought Pig Shit was fan-fucking-tastic for a while. What other reason would explain a man in a happy marriage driving over 100 miles for a first night in a hotel with a new woman, albeit a middle aged woman who I would consider to be a desperate dirt bag. There was no gun to his head. Here was an available middle aged woman desperately seeking a man in her life. She had gone to the same school as him and I can just imagine the “I used to really fancy you at school” dialogue. Can’t you? Her, looking into his eyes and smiling sweetly! He says he doesn’t remember her at school because she was about three years below but I don’t know if I can believe this. Pig Shit was introduced by husband’s other friends from school days – so it must have been quite a comfortable social setting. Equally, she grew up in the same area. Husband has described her as ‘thick as two planks’! But they got on didn’t they? I remember him saying this in one of our very early trauma fests when I asked how he could spend a night with her. But now, when I remind him of this, he shrugs, lifts his eyebrows and doesn’t agree with the sentiment. He has settled into the ‘only for sex’ rationalisation. I do think that he’s convinced himself of this but I reckon this was after a year of having her pushing into his life and her starting to want more time from him towards the latter months.
Her attraction? He says that she made it explicitly clear that she was up for sex. I’d say it was her mediocrity. It made him feel wonderful. I believe that in the early days he would have even thought that she might be part of his future. He ABSOLUTELY denies this. I mean, it would have all been so much easier with Pig Shit wouldn’t it. She told me that she considered him to be an ‘alpha-male’. Go figure, that’s not how I have ever seen him. He felt entitled to this ‘adoration’ and I consider it to be an important aspect of the attraction. He says it was all about sex but he took a photograph of them both (set up his camera on timer) on a bench outside the first hotel that they shagged in. This was a few hours BEFORE they shagged. He kept this photo unbeknownst to me on his computer and actually got it printed off nine months later to put in a frame and give to her for her fiftieth birthday. (Granted, it’s a shitty present but by this time he was very close to melt down). Taking this photo means that his decision to commit adultery was more than just sex. He cannot explain why he wanted the photo but suggests that he considered her a catch! Proof that he could still ‘do it’! Also, before arriving at this first hotel Pig Shit invited him to visit her house. He agreed. He thought it was for a bit of early sex. Tell me, here is a married man en-route to a hotel he has arranged for sex, agreeing to visit her house; does this make any sense to you?
Once there, sex was not on the menu. Instead she sat him down with a cup of tea and introduced him to her two teenage kids. My idiot husband sat there, drank his tea and obviously made himself out to be Mr Special. I can just imagine Pig Shit telling her kids that this man was her childhood sweetheart blah, blah, blah. Such a nice man. Guess what, he can’t remember what they discussed. Do you think she told her kids that he was married? I asked husband he said he had no idea. Then the two of them left (he says in separate cars) to go to the hotel. But not to shag straight away. They went for a swim and sauna. They went for dinner (which she paid for – she paid for every meal they had because she wanted to pay her way – I guess she felt it made it a ‘proper’ relationship somehow). My husband was doing all this on business expenses because apart from once, every time they shagged it was linked to a real work commitment. Pig Shit is a single mother with two teenage children. I asked why he let her pay and he just shrugs. Then they fucked. Husband would have had to text me during this time. He was having a fucking ball wasn’t he? That’s why he doesn’t want to remember. He didn’t give a shit about any consequences. He didn’t feel guilty or ashamed because it was all overwritten by his feeling marvellous and of his feeling of entitlement. Nothing was going to stop husband having a shag-fest least of all any little voices of conscience. He didn’t have any!
You think I don’t know what that newness feels like with a new person? The excitement? The physical tingling? You think husband and I didn’t have it ourselves? We had it BIG time and that newness feeling lasted for many years. So, I know the feelings, I just wouldn’t trade my rectitude to experience it all again with someone else whilst married. Not only do I view my marriage as something to protect and honour, the lies and deception would be too much to ask of me. So immediately you can see I think differently.
Then, the next time, a couple of months later another hotel room but after this it was just cheap motel rooms or friends’ spare bedroom. It is clear that her expectations were low. She must have been so easy to please. My husband only had to text her the magic words ‘I love you’ and hey presto Pig Shit couldn’t keep her knickers on. It was always at husband’s convenience and always linked to an overnight stay for a genuine work commitment. This is why I never suspected what was going on. It would be unreasonable to think that over 12 months, his staying overnight to be nearer his work on 12 occasions, signalled him being up to no good. If he had work in Oxford, he would go up the night before, Pig Shit would drive to the location, they would eat in a pub, shag, spend the night and then both go to work. Some relationship. Really what do these other women say about women? That we will accept anything as long as you say you love me and I want to believe it. Would his actions actually demonstrate an undying love? No, I don’t think so, but it was enough for Pig Shit! How great for a married man? Minimum effort – maximum gain. Not like with me.
However, over time, he must have tired of her. Then he was trapped. He knew how to start the adultery but he didn’t know how to stop it. However, now Pig Shit wanted to cash in on her chips. He had promised undying love and a future together, she had let him do all sorts of things to her genitals. Now it was pay time for her. But it became melt down time for husband. Too pathetic to come clean to me and own up, too weak to break it off with Pig Shit. You see, what do we have here? I have to admit in the cold light of reality, this is not a nice man. This man, who I married and thought had boyish charm was a liar, a manipulator and a coward. He was playing me and he was playing Pig Shit which led him to become engulfed in a shitty mess of his own making. Then things were to get even worse because of his emotional immaturity and inadequacy to deal with the problems that were a direct result of his pathetic choices.
It’s taken a while to really confront this awful truth but the truth has helped me to understand him, understand myself and understand the measures I need to take if our marriage is to recover. At first, I was confused because his behaviour had led him to melt down. When his melt down first started I’m not sure (he did crazy things like fill up his diesel car with petrol) but he fluctuated between on the one hand crying with desperate hugs, saying how much he loved me and on the other, making comments that he didn’t want to be here. He would repeat his head in his hands “I don’t want to be here” “I don’t want to be here”. Now I think the ‘here’ that he was referring to wasn’t our house or me it was his head. He was in a living nightmare of his own making. In the end I asked him to leave and the idiot respected my wish BUT WENT TO ACTUALLY LIVE WITH PIG SHIT! By this time I do believe he wanted it over but he was too weak to tell her. He has told me that his intention was to go and live with her to break it off gradually so that she didn’t get angry and tell me. Don’t laugh, but I actually believe this. His fucked up thinking has a lot to answer for.
His plan misfired. He didn’t expect me to move so quickly to seek a divorce immediately and explore selling our house. He didn’t like living with Pig Shit – it wasn’t what he had intended or wanted. Of that I am sure. As I didn’t know he was with another woman, how he looked and behaved made me feel sorry for him. After a few weeks I agreed to a trial reconciliation and he could not wait to return. He just wanted it all swept away – to awaken from his nightmare, but his unceremonious dumping of Pig Shit was surprisingly ingenuous. It provoked the adulterous hornet and she set out to sting me in the worst way possible. My husband, what a coward! He couldn’t even protect me from Pig Shit’s revelation. How could he think, for one minute, that it was all going to right itself? I don’t know about you but this is even more fucked up thinking.
My husband behaved appallingly towards me. Both during the adultery and the lead up to the horrendous revelation. We have not entertained therapy of any kind because I am quite cynical about the blooming counselling industry (that’s not to say I appreciate that for many it has proved invaluable) and have been determined to not involve anyone who may suggest that the ‘why’ of his adultery was somehow prompted by problems in our marriage. That somehow it was our relationship and faults within that, that led to his adultery. My husband, struggling to find answers to my questions would have been provided with the perfect rationale. Then it would be a shared focus – not just on him and his choice to commit adultery but on me and what I might have done to make him vulnerable to having extra marital sex. As far as I’m concerned, too much of the general understanding of adultery is based upon findings of what the adulterers themselves say. This is only one side and allows for pathetic rationalisations that get aired in public talks. They were bored, felt empty, not alive, and/or had a longing. Quite frankly who hasn’t felt like this at times in their lives. But, why would betrayal of your spouse be considered a potential solution to these feelings? It’s just too selfish and cruel for words!
A book that has helped me considerably in this area is one written by George K Simon entitled ‘Character Disturbance; the Phenomenon of Our Age’. Interestingly, I came across it via Tracy Schorn’s blog Chump Lady so was late in coming across it because it took a while for me to become strong enough to accept the other side of the consequences of adultery – continued deception and manipulation until separation and divorce. Chump Lady’s view that reconciliation is a unicorn was troublesome whilst I had doubts about my own marital recovery but over the years I have become more confident in my choice to stay and have enjoyed reading about spouses who have got their life back on track by leaving their unfaithful partners. Equally, I support any platform that gives voice to the trauma of infidelity and betrayal.
You see, for such a long time I was saying to husband ‘you’re thinking is fucked up’. I have already blogged about the behavioural psychology that suggests we are not rational thinkers, even though we are adamant that we are. This went some way to help me but Simon’s analysis has hit the spot in many more ways. Although I am deeply reluctant to agree to a diagnostic label of DC to pin to my husband, (or anyone else for that matter) some of the symptoms that Simon discusses I have found in my husband and this has created another dimension in which to think about what he did to me and what needs to be considered to ensure it doesn’t happen again. So, it’s a bit pick and mix, but not only does it describe some of my husband’s character or personality it goes someway to understanding why there is such widespread infidelity. Fundamentally, for Simon, modern society is dominated by a ‘just do it’ culture which has produced increasing numbers of individuals who are not ‘hung-up’ enough about the things they allow themselves to do. Adultery would fit this bill wouldn’t it? Stemming from an underdeveloped conscience these individuals end up with problems related to their dysfunctional attitudes and thinking patterns. These he calls disturbances of character.
Simon, whose experience is not in the field of relationship counselling or infidelity but in the study of manipulators and other disturbed characters, makes a distinct break from traditional Freudian understandings of behaviour. Considered out of date and based on understanding the neurosis of mainly upper middleclass women, he suggests that the modern demands of psychology now require a completely different perspective in order to understand this ‘just do it’ culture that divorces itself from consequences. For Simon, neurosis is still with us but rather than being pathological as earlier thought, it now serves as an important psychological function. We need to ensure that we possess it in a healthy measure. It allows us to experience enough guilt or shame to restrain impulses. “It’s what makes society work”. With this analysis I think I would say that I am healthily neurotic! However, for some individuals, where there is a lack of healthy neurosis it can lead to an underdeveloped conscience. And this has become widespread.
Character disturbance results in individuals “whose problems are related to their dysfunctional attitudes and thinking patterns, their shallow, self-centred relationships, their moral immaturity and social irresponsibility, and their habitual, dysfunctional behaviour patterns.” I believe that before we met, my husband was the epitome of this description but I never saw it. Did he hide it or did his relationship with me foster better character traits? We spent nine years together in a good relationship but something seemed to have triggered off a return to his past behaviour patterns that he developed with all his ex-school friends. Interestingly, when one of these friends (who had socialised with H and Pig Shit) rang me to find out why my H was not communicating with any of them he informed me that what I had experienced (infidelity) was what H always did.
As well as our personality, our distinctive way of relating to people and the choices that we make about how to cope best with life’s challenges also play a role. For Simon, character is an individual’s positive personality aspects – those that are socially desirable; self–control, ethics, loyalty and fortitude. Characters that don’t develop such aspects often fail to experience the potential pangs of guilt or shame upon their decisions and are therefore able to act in socially irresponsible ways. “Anxiety is minimally present or plays a negligible role in the Disturbed Character’s problems”. I would say this sums up my husband’s character in the early stages of his adultery. It is clear from what he has told me that initially he felt no anxiety whatsoever about what he was doing!
“The DC’s conscience is remarkably under-developed and impaired. DCs don’t hear that little voice that urges most of us to do right, or admonishes us when we’re contemplating doing wrong. Or, if they do hear it, they can easily ignore it, or put it in a lock box (i.e. compartmentalise it)”.
“Shame is the emotional state we experience when we feel badly about who we are. Guilt is when we feel badly about what we’ve done.” For my husband, both of these emotions were absent until it all started to go terribly wrong for him and he could no longer continue with his behaviour. However these two emotions are fundamental to him being able to change his character. From his experience, Simon states “I’ve known many individuals who made significant changes in their characters. But when they did so, it was not only because they regretted their irresponsible behaviours, but also because they became unsettled enough with the person they had allowed themselves to become (I.e. became too ashamed of themselves) that they decided to change course. So it appears that one must have the capacity to experience both guilt and shame in order to forge a sound character.” He goes on to point out that “being embarrassed at being uncovered or found out is not the same as genuine shame.” So it is clear, from this perspective that any recovery from adultery will demand both guilt and shame to be experienced by the betrayer if change in them is what is required
I have blogged elsewhere about why and how people lie. Lying it seems is one of the more common problem behaviours of DCs. “Sometimes this lying is done so automatically that the DC finds himself lying without thinking much about it and even when the truth would have done just fine.” I experienced this with husband and it’s something I am now conscious of all the time and regularly make checks about the most simplest of statements. Just to ensure that there is no slippage.
DCs, in keeping with my husband’s responses, say ‘I don’t know’ a lot but for Simon this probably means one of the following.
I never really think about it that much.
I don’t like to think about it.
I don’t want to talk to you about it.
I know very well why I did it but I certainly don’t want you to know.
I hope you’ll buy the notion that I’m basically a good person whose intentions were benign.
Sounds about right!
In traditional counselling or therapy it is believed that there is a different reality undermining the façade that we see; a pitiable reality i.e. low self-esteem. The therapy acts to dig deep into someone’s emotions in order to access this reality. However, whilst this might be true for someone with neurosis this is not the case for a DC. Instead, what you see is what you get. “No feelings of inferiority. But a deeply rooted sense of entitlement”. In fact DCs have an inflated sense of self-worth and often feel entitled to use and exploit others as they see fit. They often ignore the reality of their circumstances and act indifferently to the truth about themselves and their behaviours. This was my H’s behaviour during the time of the adultery. He made my life very difficult. “For the most part DCs act first and think later and when a person lacks apprehension about what he’s about to do, he’s less likely to engage in any meaningful contemplation before he acts”. Sums up H. “This impulsive thinking promotes a devil may care, lackadaisical attitude and attitudes of indifference, uncaring or nonchalance”. This was my experience of my husband whilst he was engaged in adultery.
The clarity for me, of the difference between my H’s thinking and mine can be summed up by this; “DCs are largely unaffected and undeterred by adverse consequences. Typically not unnerved by situations that would upset the neurotic.” So, my H, in the context of our marriage and his blatant disregard for my feelings, needs not help and insight to discover more about his feelings about himself but firm benign confrontation, limit setting and most especially correction.
“They need an encounter which directly confronts and challenges their dysfunctional beliefs, destructive attitudes and distorted ways of thinking which stymies their typical attempts at manipulation and impression management.” Whilst Simon is suggesting a particular type of therapy here (and this is in direct opposition to traditional psychology’s belief that personality and character disorders are untreatable) I feel that my H experienced an encounter of this kind when he left me without any acceptable reason and went to live secretly with Pig Shit. He was absolutely lost, exhausted by the manipulation and impression management, with nobody to turn to. Except, he wanted to return to me. He DESPERATELY wanted to come home and have everything ‘back to normal’.
The way I responded to the knowledge of his adultery once I had agreed to a possible reconciliation matches (without my prior knowing) Simon’s suggestion of firm limits set on maladaptive behaviour, and a structuring of the terms of our engagement in a manner that prompts him to try out alternative, more pro-social ways of interrelating that I can reinforce. Once we identified his problem behaviours and got them out into the open, our attention could be paid to the erroneous ways of thinking that had led to those behaviours. For H to experience genuine empathy-based remorse for the injury he caused, rather than just regret, two things needed to occur. 1. He needed to feel genuinely bad about what he’d done (guilt) – he does. 2. He must be internally unnerved about the kind of person he became (shame) through acting so irresponsibly – he is. It is his shame and guilt which can propel him to make amends to the best of his ability and work very hard not to engage in the same misconduct again – he is working hard – to want to make himself a better person – he says this himself!
“When people have true contrition, their greatest pain is for the injury they caused someone else, and their actions reflect a sincere effort, not only to repair the damage, but also change their ways.”
“None of us is born civilised. We are not naturally predisposed to be socially conscientious or responsible beings. No matter how one is biologically predisposed and regardless of one’s environment, certain crucial lessons must be learned at various stages if one is to develop a balanced personality and healthy character.” We have to be “ever mindful of man’s incredible capacity to deceive himself as well as others and the temptation we all face to secure what we want and avoid what we don’t want through deception, cheating and conniving.”
Unfortunately, society doesn’t really recognise or reward those who display integrity of character. It has always been easier to cheat, lie and steal rather than take the honest path. For most part, lying is simply easier than accepting and dealing with the truth. And truth is a cornerstone here. We know it as betrayed spouses and Simon knows about it through his work with DCs. He has found “incredible power in the truth. It’s the basis of the genuine human connection that can facilitate positive change. “The truth is rarely pretty but it is almost always redemptive and transformative” Don’t we just know it!
An additional understanding for me of H’s behaviour when it all got out of control has been provided by Simon and his suggestion of circumstantial thinking – the belief that one thing leads to another. “They see their behaviour and its consequences as the inevitable result of a snowball rolling out of control and becoming too massive to stop. Not as a result of their choices. Circumstantial thinking means not thinking about one’s motives for engaging in behaviour, one’s internal decision-making process, and the consequences of one’s choices, but rather telling oneself that things simply happen. That is the thinking error most responsible for the development of a socially irresponsible attitude”
Finally, returning to me and the difficulties that I have experienced in trying to understand H’s motives for what he did I’d like to return to Simon’s suggestion that I am healthily neurotic . “Neurotic individuals’ main vulnerability is that they simply can’t imagine that everyone isn’t at least to some degree like them. They also can’t imagine that people aren’t motivated in their actions by the same kinds of issues that motivate them”.
The bottom line is our recovery from H’s adultery is all about H and how he values his own efforts to be a better person. Like it or not, for me, character matters. You cannot legislate for morality. H’s behaviour might not have been illegal but it was reprehensible.
Image Credit: Online Search by renjith Krishnan freedigitalphotos.net