Category Archives: why

Adultery is Abuse

  • abuseI have been grappling with the idea of adultery as a form of abuse for a while now. The reason for this has been that I have been unable to find any definition or accurate articulation that comes close to describing the severity of what I have experienced whilst living with an unfaithful husband, either at the time whilst it was going on or after it had ended when I had to confront the consequences of what his behaviour had created.  For me, on the receiving end of his behaviour, it felt like abuse.

When my husband decided to shag Pig Shit without sharing this information with me, it wasn’t the sex, the betrayal of intimacy, which had any immediate impact upon me. Not at the time it was occurring.  Whilst this sordid little arrangement was taking place I was in complete and utter ignorance of the act, but over time I did become bereft, isolated, totally confused and lost within our relationship.  I also developed physical symptoms such as headaches, nose bleeds, pains in my legs and anxiety attacks.  What was an easy going, happy marriage became the location for arguments and tears as I desperately tried to understand what was going wrong with us.  With me!  However, my hurt and anger were dismissed as ‘unbearable’ to him.  The man who I thought I knew had become cold and distant.  He looked at me without compassion and just shrugged, saying his feelings had changed.  He was deceitful and manipulative and consciously took away my basic human right to be angry with him.  I wonder now, was he trying to defuse my anger in order to weaken my capacity to resist what was happening?  I know now that I was manipulated and deceived by my husband’s acts of disrespect for me and his coercion in the form of denial of my reality in order to get me to comply with his new and disturbing change of feelings within our marriage.   This was a terrible time for me, a lonely isolating experience which was orchestrated by my husband.  This experience, which I suspect is faced by most betrayed spouses is the underplayed, underwritten, almost ignored aspect of adultery in most current discussions and observations.  However, I believe this is denying a huge reality; the reality that committing adultery is a form of abuse towards the betrayed spouse.  I suspect that until it is recognised as such it will continue to be misrepresented and misconceived.

Having just read a book by therapist Lundy Bancroft ‘Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of bookangry and controlling men’ (recommended by Valkyrie), I have found a bridge to understand my experience as abuse. It also provides the lens with which to understand the why of my husband’s adultery differently.  Although this book is primarily concerned with domestic violence, the parallels that can be drawn are remarkable.  To me at least. And, as Lundy points out early in his book “even if your partner’s behaviour doesn’t fit the definition of abuse, it may still have a serious effect on you”.    For Lundy, the term abuse “is about power; it means that a person is taking advantage of a power imbalance to exploit or control someone else.”  My husband took advantage of my trust in him and stopped his honesty with me in order to be unfaithful with another woman.  Without my knowledge or consent he changed the rules of our relationship.   There was a definite shift in power towards him during this time. Whilst the normal gamut of therapeutic solutions to adultery leaves me spitting feathers due to the outrageous blame shifting that seems to occur, Lundy’s approach is a breath of fresh air.  For me, by replacing the word abuse with adultery, his perspective provides a wonderful antidote to any victim blaming approach in adultery and provides a useful blueprint for the requirements of a marital recovery.  One that mirrors what has occurred with my husband and me since D-day, three and a half years ago.  Let me share some of his ideas with you.

Firstly, in his therapeutic program the mistreated woman is the person primarily served, listenNOT the abuser. It is believed that it is not possible to get an accurate picture of what is going on in an abusive relationship without listening carefully to the abused woman.  “The women’s accounts have taught us that abusive men present their own stories with tremendous denial, minimisation and distortion.”  How many adulterers  I wonder are guilty of this when in counselling?

 

Nothing prepares you for adultery and there is nothing that can alleviate the pain and grief that follows. Only betrayed spouses fully understand what the experience is.  Blogs are a wonderful way to obtain first-hand accounts of the experience of adultery but there is, in stark contrast, a developing modern mythology about committing adultery which is being created and in the main it seems to be by the betrayers themselves.  Adulterers concoct explanations for their actions which they give to their partners, therapists, relatives, clergy and social researchers and these explanations are turned into ready answers and solutions for the ‘problems’ of monogamy.   But as Lundy makes clear “it is a serious error to allow abusers to analyse and account for their own problems”.  These responses are nothing but excuses for committing adultery and are not a reliable form of insight.  A person happy to commit adultery is hardly an authority on the subject. But the myth persists bad feelings– the betrayer’s behaviour is caused by how he feels within his marriage.  For Lundy, this is absurd.  “Although our feelings can influence how we wish to act, our choices of how to behave are ultimately determined more by our attitudes and our habits.  For decades, many therapists have been attempting to help abusive men change by guiding them in identifying and expressing feelings.  Alas, this well-meaning but misguided approach actually feeds the abuser’s selfish focus on himself.”  Understanding an adulterer needs us to understand their way of thinking at that time, not what their feelings may have been at the time.

 

“An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside”.  In short, the core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong.right wrong  The problem lies above all in his belief that controlling or abusing his partner is justifiable.  Whether I like it or not, this reverberates around my husband’s behaviour towards me at that time.  He gave himself the green light to behave as he did.  I believe that he did not have any ‘psychological’ problems, but that it was his value system that was unhealthy.  The self-esteem myth is a red herring and mistakenly moves the focus from the thinking  of an adulterer to their  feelings.  Equally, it ignores the huge role that the sense of entitlement plays.  “Entitlement is the abuser’s belief that he has special status and that it provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner”.  My husband considered himself entitled to have his cake and eat it too, without a thought for my feelings or the consequences this might hold for me and our relationship.

 

Constantly, throughout the year of adultery he denied it. This is common in abuse. “Of course he’s going to deny it, partly to protect himself and partly because his perceptions are distorted”.  If my husband had been ready to accept responsibility for his actions in the relationship, he wouldn’t have been committing adultery.  His adultery occurred due to his attitudes and values, not his feelings.  Committing abuse is not a product of emotional injuries or deficits in skills.  It springs from early cultural training, key role models and peer influences.  It is a problem of values.  The role of culture and its impact on our experience cannot be underestimated.  Personally I hope that cultural values around adultery can change over time if people find that individuals who cheat on their spouses are made to feel answerable rather than excused.

 

Interestingly, Lundy insists that “no one should ever tell an abused woman, ‘I know just what you’re going through’, because the experience of everywoman is different. Viewed from another angle, however, abuse doesn’t vary that much.  One man uses a little more of one ingredient and a little less of the other, but the overall flavour of the mistreatment has core similarities: assaults on the woman’s self-esteem, controlling behaviour, undermining her independence, disrespect.  Each abused woman has times of feeling that a riptide is dragging her under the sea, and she struggles for air.  Confusion has been part of the experience of almost every one of the hundreds of abused women I have spoken with.  Whether because of the abuser’s manipulations , his popularity, or simply the mind-bending contrast between his professions of love and his vicious psychological or physical assaults, every abused woman finds herself fighting to make sense out of what is happening”.

 

However, Lundy is keen to point out that the abuser is neither a monster or a victim but needs to be viewed as a human being with a complex problem that should not be underestimated or viewed as something that can be corrected in a short period of time. “An abusive man has to bury his compassion in a deep hole in order to escape the profound inherent aversion that human beings have to seeing others suffer. He has to adhere tightly to his excuses and rationalisations, develop a disturbing ability to insulate himself from the pain he is causing, and learn to enjoy power and control over his female partner.  It is unrealistic to expect such a complex structure, one that takes fifteen or twenty years to form, vanish like steam.  Yet women are often pressured by friends , family, or professionals to ‘give him a chance to change”.  It is now three and a half years since D-day and my husband has stepped up to the plate with regard to developing behaviour that  would signify the necessary change.  However, for me it remains a work in progress.  Naturally, my biggest concern is that he may commit adultery again.  I seriously doubt that he would but my confidence in him has been blown away.  What both he and I know is that should it happen again, it will mean the end of our relationship.  No matter what remorse he may show or what grief it will cause me, our marriage will end.  This is something in my control.

 

benefitsFor Lundy, in his analysis, we have to recognise one of the most important dynamics of abuse; “the benefits that the abuser gets that makes his behaviour desirable to him.” For me, I have to think in what ways were my husband’s adultery and treatment of me rewarding to him?  Apparently, “the feeling that he rules is where the pleasure lies.”  The benefits of adultery are a major social secret, rarely mentioned anywhere.  “If we want [adulterers] to change, we will have to require them to give up the luxury of exploitation.”

 

What was particularly valuable in Lundy’s book was his discussion around neutrality. Something I feel very strongly about and have blogged about previously.   I have always considered it impossible to sit on the fence when considering adultery and the betrayed spouse.  The ‘it’s none of my business’ approach to abuse of a domestic kind. The parallel with abuse victims is telling.  “It is not possible to be truly balanced in one’s view of an abuser and an abused woman.  Neutrality actually serves the interests of the perpetrator much more than those of the victim and so is not neutral.”

 

“In reality, to remain neutral is to collude with the abusive man, whether or not that is your goal. If you are aware of chronic or severe mistreatment and do not speak out against it, your silence communicates implicitly that you see nothing unacceptable taking place.  Abusers interpret silence as approval, or at least as forgiveness… Anyone who chooses to quietly look the other way therefore unwittingly becomes the abuser’s ally.”

 

“Protecting or enabling an abuser is as morally repugnant as the abuse itself”. This is an issue I feel very strongly about.  For adultery I include the participating individual who agrees to a relationship knowing there is a wife and possibly children in the life of their ‘lover’.  It is not something to be proud of, something to flaunt aka Elizabeth Gilbert but an act which centrally and specifically targets abuse at the unsuspecting spouse.  Equally, so called friends who collude need to rethink their actions in the light of abuse.   This critical concept needs to become firmly embedded in our culture.  “Colluding with abuse abandons the abused woman and her children, and ultimately abandons the abuser as well, since it keeps him from ever dealing with his problem.”

 

Since D-day I have not had to deal with any further adultery issues in my marriage. Pig Shit was unceremoniously dumped and from that day to this my husband has worked very hard to be the man he needs to be in order to regain and restore the marriage that we had built between us.  As Lundy rightly says “There are no shortcuts to change, no magical overnight transformations, no easy ways out.  Change is difficult, uncomfortable work.” However, it is something that I have insisted upon.  But then the challenge has been learning how to tell if my husband is serious about overcoming his problems.  For Lundy, the men who make significant progress in his programme are the ones who know that their partners will definitely leave them unless they change.  My husband has had no doubt that I will leave him if required.

I had asked him to leave when his behaviour became so unreasonable I feared for any future with him.  Unbeknownst to me he went to live with Pig Shit.  I had no idea at this stage that there was someone else involved.  During the following week, I had locks changed, visited a solicitor and put the house on the market.  I really thought that it was me that he was running away from so I would not want a man who didn’t want me.  It took ten days for him to be begging to come home, but it would take a further twenty odd days for me to accept any reconciliation.  He had to convince me of his desire to be married to me.  Also, I thought that he was having a nervous breakdown as he was acting so very strange.  The rest is history.  Pig Shit was outraged that her 12 shags had not secured my husband in the bosom of her own home and family so she texted me to let me know the truth about her and my husband and their sexual antics.  By this time he was back and desperate , DESPERATE to remain married.  He had suffered the consequences of his selfish behaviour and I think that this has made all the difference in our subsequent recovery.

 

I hadn’t realised it before reading this book, but we have taken steps, at my behest, that have got my husband to accept responsibility for what he did. These steps that have supported our marital recovery are reminiscent of the steps proposed by Lundy.  They are:

  • He had to admit fully to his adultery, providing me with answers to my questions.
  • He had to acknowledge that the adultery was wrong, unconditionally.
  • He had to recognise the effects his behaviour has had on me and show empathy for those.
  • He identified his pattern of controlling behaviours and entitled attitudes.
  • He has developed respectful behaviours and attitudes to replace the abusive ones he has stopped.
  • He has re-evaluated his distorted image of me and replaced it with a more positive and empathic view.
  • He has made amends for the damage he has done.
  • He has accepted the consequences of his actions.
  • He has committed to not repeating the adultery and honours that commitment.
  • He has accepted that overcoming adultery is likely to be a lifelong process.
  • He is willing to be accountable for his actions, both past and future.

 

Do these expectations seem too demanding? I don’t believe they are, as Lundy so rightly states “when you are attempting to preserve a relationship with a man who has abused you, you need to some extent to hold him to an even higher standard than you would a non-abusive partner”.

 

I personally, am so glad that we didn’t attend any couples therapy. Fortunately, my arrogance towards therapy has held me in good stead.  Whilst it may benefit others, for us it has not played any part in our recovery.  Naturally, the bottom line is our circumstances and our personalities but I am highly sceptical of some claims made about the efficacy of it all.  I don’t approve of considering adultery a ‘mutual’ problem.  It’s the betrayer’s problem.  Shifting the blame, in any way,  on to the betrayed partner just adds to the abuse in my opinion.

 

“Attempting to address abuse through couple’s therapy is like wrenching a nut the wrong way; it just gets even harder to undo than it was before. Couples therapy is designed to tackle issues that are mutual.  It can be effective for overcoming barriers to communication, for untangling the childhood issues that each partner brings to a relationship, or for building intimacy.  But you can’t accomplish any of these goals in the context of abuse.  “Couples counselling sends both the abuser and the abused woman the wrong message.  The abuser learns that his partner is pushing his buttons and that she needs to adjust her behaviour to avoid him getting upset.  Change in abusers comes only from the reverse process, from completely stepping out of the notion that his partner plays ANY role in causing his abuse of her.”

 

I realise that I cannot make or even help my husband to change. All I can do is create the context for change, and the rest is up to him.  Adultery is wrong.  He is responsible for his own actions; no excuse is acceptable; the damage he has done is incalculable; his problem is his and his alone to solve.chess

 

“Abuse doesn’t come from people’s inability to resolve conflicts but from one person’s decision to claim a higher status than another.”

 

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to shift away from the modern myths around adultery but for the future, maybe “once we tear the cover of excuses, distortions, and manipulations off of the [adulterers], they might suddenly find adultery much harder to get away with”

 

My husband has not ‘got away’ with his adultery but then neither have I. The carnage has been difficult to bear, and even after three years it still feels like a rotten smell that clings to my clothes.  Maybe it always will.  As a society we may never be able to stop adultery but we should be able to confidently condemn it rather than condone it in any way.  Exploiting your spouse, deceiving her, abusing her trust and betraying her intimacy is abuse in a relationship that is supposed to be monogamous and if someone chooses to act in this manner they need to recognise themselves as an abuser.

Image Credits: Stop Abuse Shows Warning Sign And Abusing; Listen To Me Sign Shows Notice Or Message; and Right And Wrong Switch by Stuart Miles: Coins Falling Down To The Business’s Hand by pixtawan all via Freedigitalphotos.net

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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.

Adultery: There are no satisfactory answers to why, but genuine remorse can heal the scars.

never ending whyThis is the conclusion that I have come to after three years (and counting) of marital recovery following D-day. I’ve been hooked on the ‘why’ for too long now.  Placebo had a point in the lyrics to their song ‘The Never Ending Why’:

Time will help you through

But it doesn’t have the time

To give you all the answers to the never-ending why.

Why would an otherwise sane person risk so much for so little? I have not had any satisfactory answers from my husband and I have not noted any that resonate with me from all the thousands of words that I have read on the subject. For my husband it has mainly been about him being an absolute jerk. He can’t explain why he did what he did. He doesn’t blame anybody but himself; his stupidity, selfishness and lack of boundaries. In his own words he was a prat. Quite! We have subsequently come to the conclusion that his deep rooted issues around anger may have played some part but this is not an answer to why for me.

Lots have people have issues with anger but they don’t all commit acts of adultery. It started with a sense of boredom with himself, with us. Well, isn’t this what happens sometimes in life? What idiot expects novelty all the time. This boredom led to pornography. He would watch it whilst I was working till late. I asked him why he didn’t share this inclination with me. I’m no prude, I’d say fairly broad church, plus we have watched porn together earlier in our relationship but, like many women, it never rocked my boat. I prefer a story line… don’t we all? I’d choose erotic literature over the visual depictions any day but I think this is a clear difference in male and female sexuality. He says that he would not have liked me to see the porn he was watching.  He also was starting to feel that he had lost his passion for everything. I’d say he was experiencing a form of depression that occurs in middle age. So with this existential angst, whilst out drinking without me he gets introduced to a woman who is available. The rest is history. Whilst I know all I want to know about their sordid and sorry lets-get-a-motel-and-fuck relationship I still cannot understand why he would want to act like a complete jackass and risk everything he feels dear to him.

Literature in the area doesn’t help much either. The only thing that seems to get put into the mix is to look at the marriage and what might have been the push factors that prompted adultery. I find this an insidious train of thought that at best gives therapists an angle at making sense of nonsense and at worst sets the scene for further adultery should marital discord ever present itself again. Quite frankly, there was nothing in our marriage that prompted adultery and EVEN IF THERE WAS, that does not explain why because there is no problem that adultery is the answer to. The truth is, adultery is a solution looking for a problem! If you look for a problem, I’m sure you’ll find one eventually!

Actually, I know the answer to why my husband committed adultery and it is all unpalatable and unacceptable. It was his selfishness and arrogant sense of entitlement. He had a lot of fun with Pig Shit. Nobody held a gun to his head. He RAN towards her. He made arrangements to meet up to shag. He told her he loved her and he did all this because it made him feel good. He didn’t want to leave me for one minute so of course, he kept it a secret so he could have his cake and eat it too. He found sexual novelty and difference and as long as he could have his little fix every few weeks he was happy to lie, cheat and deceive me. Not to mention deceive Pig Shit but she was a grown up willingly ready to give herself sexually to a married man. She got what she deserved in my opinion. And then, when he would have liked to have let it run its course he found he had dug himself into a shit hole that he couldn’t get out of. Then more of his unsavoury character surfaced. Not only was he a selfish son of a bitch hurting me, the wife who loved him dearly, he was an emotional yellow livered coward who set in motion a series of events that would threaten to destroy everything that the two of us held between us.

How many times can you ask why? How much digging can you do? I really do believe that there is nothing much to find out because there is nothing there. You either have the personal discipline, moral values, respectability and determination to remain monogamous or you don’t. Really, the question for me is, has the impact of the consequences of his adultery made him develop sexual self-discipline, value fidelity, behave respectably and work at remaining committed to monogomamy? This is his shit, not mine. If I’m to stay with him and if our marriage is going to survive in the long term he has got to convince me that he can and I have to heal from the pain of his past actions. So, what is it, if anything, that can a) change his behaviour and b) help to heal my pain. I think I have the answer to this.

The answer is genuine remorse.

If he feels genuine remorse for the devastating pain his adultery caused me this remorse will keep his behaviour in check. This remorse will prevent him from ever hurting me like this again. This remorse will provide him with the humility to show his shame and disgrace to me and allow me the time and actions I need in order to heal. If his remorse is genuine and I believe his sincerity, this remorse will act as a balm on my open wounds and scars caused by his adultery. Without genuine remorse there can be no marital recovery.

The past three years with my husband, since D-day has been a continuous display of actions that demonstrate his remorse. His only request of me is that I judge him by his actions now and not his actions of the past. I do my best. I certainly don’t make it easy for him and I still test him. The stakes are high here. This is my integrity at stake. I have often wished that he was more of a wordsmith than he is. He is clumsy with words and finds it difficult to put his feelings into words. Of course, on the one hand this is quite a relief for me because I don’t have to worry about whether the words are lies but on the other hand, actions don’t always feed me with the comfort I need at certain times. Sometimes I find myself leaning into him and saying ‘tell me something nice’, not quite knowing what I’d want him to say but feeling the need for some emotional validation. He responds always with I love you and I’m so sorry that I hurt you and then goes on to list all the things I do that makes him feel so lucky to have me in his life. I do smile. It is lovely. However, yesterday I read a blog which had a letter of apology from the wayward spouse to the betrayed spouse and it caught me quite unawares. I have grown accustomed to WSs comments which just don’t get it and which seek to massage their own egos away from the wretchedness of their own stories, so was taken aback by the level of remorse shown, the acceptance of shortcomings, the open awareness of his appalling behaviour and his love for the woman he is lucky to still be married to. I think it is his love that leaks from the words that caused me to be so emotionally moved by the letter. I read parts of it to my husband. I don’t normally share blog material with him but I felt this to be different. The act of my reading it to him brought us both to tears.

Much of the apology is rooted in specific and unique experiences which devastated his marriage but a great deal of the apology seemed, to me, to carry a universal message. For the full version, please visit the blog Reconcile4Life. What I have done here, is to take poetic license (with their permission) and to tweak it to my situation. Whilst the never ending why fills me with despair, this letter of apology acts like a balm. I have no despair when I read this, only hope.

I’ve written this letter several times, and I’m still struggling to get it right. I apologize. I apologize for hurting you, for destroying your world, stabbing you in the back, pulling the rug out from under you, making a fool of you, and failing to appreciate you. I want you to know I’m not sorry I got caught. Instead, I apologize for what I did to you, and for what I failed to do for you. I apologize for breaking my marriage vows to you. I apologize for being a terrible friend, especially when you have always been the best friend and lover a man could want. I beg your forgiveness. I don’t expect it. The things I did are really unforgivable. Nonetheless, I beg your forgiveness.

I apologize for my selfishness and self-centeredness. I made a story all about me. The year of deception stopped us from having a continuous wonderful story about us. Did you feel lonely, unsupported, unloved, and abandoned during that time? I feel the tears welling up as I write this. I apologize for hurting you.

I apologize for bringing a demon into our bedroom. The demon was my sick obsessions, my insecurities, my insistence on comparing myself to some sick, unrealistic ideal of masculinity I imagined. I went out without you, looking for ways to cheat.   I made you feel nothing you did was good enough for me, in the bedroom, and in many other ways. I took the joy out of sex for you. I took a fun and beautiful thing that you deserved, and I ruined it for you. I apologize.

I apologize for making you feel ashamed or unwanted. You are the most beautiful woman in the world to me, and always have been. I denied you that free and joyful affirmation. I robbed you of the fun, free, and beautiful sexual and romantic life we could have shared. I made another woman feel she had that with me. It should have been a holy thing, meant only for the two of us to share. I desecrated it. I apologize.

You felt alone, ashamed of our marriage falling apart, and heartbroken. You deserved such better treatment, such greater respect from me. I apologize.

I apologize for making you afraid to be yourself. With my insecurities, I behaved like a selfish child, not a supportive friend and lover. I made you feel afraid and unappreciated. I made you fear being you. I apologize.

I apologize for not appreciating you, thanking you, and praising you. You thought we were in the struggle together, trying to improve our lot, as a partnership. I took for granted all the instinctive, heartfelt, thoughtful, and loving support you gave me. I let you down, thinking only about me and taking unfathomable, thoughtless risks. In my blind self-centeredness, I missed a thousand opportunities to lovingly praise you, publicly or privately, even in small ways, or even to thank you for all your work, courage, and selflessness. I apologize.

I apologize for failing to protect you, to proudly, confidently, and instinctively stand up for you in the face of my mother’s criticism and manipulation. I cowardly avoided conflict, protecting myself instead of quickly, firmly, even calmly putting my mother in her place. Did you feel abandoned, in addition to feeling unfairly judged and attacked? I apologize.

I apologize for my lies, to hide my corrupt thoughts and behaviors. Moreover, I apologize for not being honest, trusting, and emotionally intimate; for not confiding in you. How much of my downward spiral could I have prevented had I simply told you, right away of my struggles. I denied you the intimate honesty you needed to feel safe and that I needed in order to be a safe partner. I apologize for that emotional cowardice.

I viewed our relationship as a means for meeting my needs. That got in the way of me actually loving you, regardless of needs. I apologize for not properly and truly loving you. Don’t get me wrong. I have always wanted you, admired you, and been infatuated with you. But, it wasn’t until after D-day that I learned to love anyone. I love you, and only you. I apologize for not doing so during the year of adultery. I apologize for making everything focus on my needs.

I apologize for humiliating you. Friends and colleagues knew or suspected I was betraying you. You even feel shocked and humiliated by yourself, for not calling me out on possible signs of infidelity. As much as my low self-esteem laid the foundation for my corrupt behavior, I have destroyed your self-esteem through humiliation. I robbed you of your dignity in that manner. How can we restore it? Can we make Pig Shit, witnesses, or others view you without the lens of humiliation and stolen dignity? Can they un-know what they know? Can they not believe what they instinctively believe? I don’t know. I apologize for humiliating you, robbing you of your dignity, and de-humanizing you. Just for being a human being, you deserved far better. Being my sworn mate, friend, and lover, I should have protected your honor, dignity, and humanity like priceless treasures. That’s what they are. I owe it to you to restore them. I pray that I can.

I also destroyed your sense of safety, your self-confidence, and even your trust in your own instincts. Always hyper-vigilant and never relaxed, you now question everything, not just my words and actions, but even your own. You wonder why you tolerate our continued relationship, when even you would describe my crimes against you as a deal-breaker. This makes you look poorly on yourself. I apologize for the self-doubt I created in you, the peace of mind I destroyed, and stealing the calm joy and optimism with which you once approached life.

I apologize for the stolen memories, the damaged memories, and the tainted history of our story.   I took priceless heirlooms — your memories — and I spat on them, broke them, misplaced them, soiled them, and damaged them irreparably. Where you once remembered shared experiences, adventures, trips, special occasions, quiet moments, and intimate discussions, you now wonder whether any of it was real. You fear I was mentally with Pig Shit while physically with you. You feel like you were with a stranger, an imposter, when you thought you had been with your friend. You feel like you have no real past. Your fear makes you feel there is no future. That feels lonely, detached, and hopeless. I apologize for robbing you of what should have been so many beautiful memories.

I apologize for squandering time, energy, and money that was ours, not mine, to save, use, or manage. I should have saved my energy for doing things with you. I should have spent my time arriving home earlier to see you. Instead, I exhausted myself and flushed that time down the toilet, out with Pig Shit. Even now, it makes you feel cheated, like you wasted your time waiting for me. It makes you feel worthless, that I did not value and appreciate my time with you.

I apologize for making you feel I hoarded my sense of fun and spontaneity, giving it to Pig Shit instead of giving it to you. I apologize for letting another steal what belonged to you. I love you so dearly. I apologize for creating a situation where you can never fully believe that.

I apologize for the risks I imposed on you. I exposed you to possible STD and I risked getting caught by others, thereby humiliating you even deeper than I did. I apologize for putting you through those risks, especially without your knowledge and consent. I had no right.   A good man doesn’t even put himself through those risks. It was an act of selfishness, self-centeredness, and indifference, again and again. I know you are shocked. You can’t get over the fear — the horror — that I could do that, that you did not know about it, and that you fear it could happen again. I apologize for risking your mind, body, and soul. They are yours, not mine. I honor them now, as I should have, always.

I apologize for hurting you, disregarding you, and failing to protect you.

I apologize for gradually drifting away from you, mentally and emotionally. I became so oblivious to your feelings, your life, even your presence, that I stood by, numb and unaffected. I drifted along, clueless as I disappointed you on your birthday and countless other special occasions. How easy it would have been for me to adjust my priorities, my focus, my love and attention, to put you first, to be flexible, and to get the value equation right. And, how important it was. Toward the end, before D-day, I became so bad that we were just cohabitating, not living together as loving friends, intimately involved in each other’s lives. You felt lonely, and gradually that grew into resentment, hopelessness, and despair. I apologize for emotionally abandoning you.

I apologize for leaving you out of my intimate circle, building walls between us. The walls hid Pig Shit and lies. The secret life behind those walls should have been for you, not for others to see. You felt left out, lonely, and shut out. I apologize for living apart from you, emotionally, instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with you and acting as a team.

I apologize for each lie, each cowardly failure to confide in you, each craven failure to defend and protect you, each betrayal, each stolen memory and squandered moment, each instance of working against us instead of for us, each precious right or privilege a wife deserves that I gave to another, each tear, each tremble of fear and despair, and each time your heart breaks.

MR, I am the most fortunate man in the world, to have such a wife as you. I strive to be a worthy husband. I apologize for doing that so little and so late. You are the aspect of life I most appreciate. Without you, nothing else would matter to me.

I apologize. I beg your forgiveness. If you can’t forgive me, I thank you for each moment, in the past, present, and hopefully the future. I will never forget to appreciate you. I love you. Thank you for waiting for me to learn how to love.

MR, I love you.

Husband

This blog is hugely indebted to the blog Reconciliation4Life written by a married couple seeking to heal from the effects of adultery. TL (TigerLily) the Betrayed Spouse and MC (MindlessCraft) the Unfaithful Spouse.  Thank you both, from the bottom of my heart.