Tag Archives: adultery

Dear Single Women Who ‘Love’ Married Men So Much They Let Them Use Them As Booty

letterAs a betrayed spouse, I find it incredulous the amount of abuse you put up with in order to have the attention of a married man.

Firstly, the lies.  I had not realised my husband was a liar and a cheater, but you had this information from the very start.  Why would that appear attractive to you?  If you’re looking for sex, it’s everywhere.  There are so many men (not married or in committed relationships) eager to service hungry sexy women.  There are apps specially designed for the activity! However, if you’re looking for love, that’s a whole different ball game (excuse the pun).  There are far fewer men who are looking for commitment.

So, what  I am beginning to understand is that you can’t find an available man.  Perhaps shagging many men without any emotional content makes you feel abused?  Maybe you think you’re worth so much more.  So you’re in a dilemma, but  then, hey presto, a married man with weak boundaries flirts with you.  He is married to another woman though; shouldn’t that make you STOP?  No, you can’t stop because you have found the perfect man.  Someone who will say “I love you”, someone who will say “you are the perfect woman” someone who will say “my wife and I aren’t sleeping together anymore” someone who will say, that given time “I’ll leave my wife for you”.   You are now being primed for abuse.  You are walking, with your eyes wide open into the wasteland of adultery.  You are allowing yourself to be a married man’s booty.  This is allowing yourself to be abused!

Do you understand what I’m saying?  Do you really?

You may think I’m joking.  You may want to believe I’m joking,  because haha, a married man shagging you and then going home to his wife and family is so funny in the reality from where you find yourself.  Clearly, we have different definitions of funny, but perhaps you truly do find it amusing to think about the man’s wife and the betrayal of her trust.

However, I am not joking. I’m afraid I’m quite serious.

From my reality your actions are saying you are willing to be used sexually by a man who you know for absolute certainty is a liar and a cheater; you are willing to sacrifice your dignity.

For what?

You are impressed by some combination of the married man’s  charisma, and/or good looks. That is understandable. Everybody’s got their something.  However, you are also saying that accepting a share of this man (when he can excuse himself from his primary relationship) would be a fair exchange for his attention, however fleeting you must know that attention would be. When you look past the image, a married man is just a person you know nothing about. Ultimately, you are saying you are willing to be used sexually for the mirage of love and attention in the desert of your life.

However, you must know that you can end this pitiful relationship.  You do not have to endure the lies and deceit that he is dishing out to you.  You, unlike his wife can withdraw your consent to the charade.  There is nothing better than knowing you have some control in a situation that feels so far beyond your control. Why don’t you make use of it?  The wife is the victim, she’s in a situation where she has no choice. You are saying that you want no choice.  It’s difficult to blame the married man for their reasoning that you are ‘available’.

When you tell a married man, at least the man he has shown himself to be, that you would like to stop, it’s likely that he won’t want it to stop.  With adultery it is difficult to stop.  He has gotten used to having his cake and eating it too.  He is afraid that if he dumps you that you will tell his wife.  For you, there is only suffering that will begin and end as he sees fit. You will never have any control. You will never know how good it feels to have this man because he has not chosen you as his primary relationship.  That choice does not include you and never will. Do you understand? Do you see that distinction?

I understand that someone else’s husband means something to you, he arouses you physically and/or emotionally. He arouses you to such an extent you are willing to do whatever it takes to be within his transitory incandescent sphere for even a little while.

I am sorry our culture has treated women so poorly for so long that conducting a sexual relationship with a man who is married to another woman seems like a fair and reasonable trade to you. We have failed you, utterly.  How can it be that we live in a culture where we think it’s okay to be treated like shit just so we can be loved?

I can advise you, your married man is selfish, possibly narcissistic, and maybe a sex addict.  I doubt that he has shown any real remorse for the pain and discomfort you and he are causing his wife.  Why has he not left his marriage?   Trust me, whatever he may say to you he will not be able to demonstrate one ounce of commitment to you.  Instead, he will flagrantly continue to lie to you.  Yes, of course, he has to lie to his wife.  She might leave him if he told her the truth, something that would devastate him totally. But, have you thought about why he might want to lie to you? He may well be emotionally troubled but that’s an explanation for his behaviour, not an excuse.

Over and over again we tell you it is acceptable for men to abuse women. We look the other way. We make excuses. We reward these men for their bad behaviour. We tell you that as a woman, you have little value or place in this society. Clearly we have sent these messages with such alarming regularity and consistency we have encouraged you to willingly run toward something that has no future for you with your eyes and arms wide open

I am sorry.

This blog post is indebted to an essay written by Roxanne Gay “Dear young ladies who love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them.” I was steered towards this by the lovely Valkyrie and immediately saw the connections between Roxanne’s letter to a young woman who views abuse acceptable and  how single women accept abuse from married men thinking that it is true love that they have found!  I have plagiarised her work, tweaking it to fit this context.

Image Credit: Communication System by Pong via freedigitalphotos.net

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Forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit:

Blake, William, 1757-1827. To annihilate the Self-hood of Deceit and False Forgiveness, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55221 [retrieved November 27, 2015].

 

 

Ugly Blog Trollop

Spoiler Alert: This blog post includes a verbatim reply which I received yesterday in response to a ID-100179234blog post that I wrote nine months ago entitled ‘Wanting the Other Woman to Suffer’

It is from an Internet Troll therefore, as you’d expect, it’s an inflammatory message with a deliberate intent to provoke. It is my understanding that the responses that their messages invoke provide them with a certain kind of amusement.  You have to wonder what type of character fits this bill don’t you. They must certainly have too much time on their hands?  Whilst I have no wish to inadvertently provide any such entertainment, I do want to identify and respond, in my own way, to the miserable phenomenon of trolling which is a pernicious and insidious activity, particularly shameful when directed at betrayed spouses.

I have not approved the comments so they cannot be read as a reply on my blog.  Equally, by not approving, the commentator is unable to respond anywhere else on my blog or join in in any on-going communications.  That is my editorial right and exercises a certain responsibility of care towards people who may be at a very vulnerable point in their lives.  I believe that I, along with you are part of an online community of articulate and eloquent thinkers who use this forum to explore ideas, emotions and experiences connected with the betrayal associated with adultery, and we do so sensitively.  The comments made in CK Beamer’s reply are off-topic, neither eloquent or articulate or even well thought out, so although it may well start an argument (which is probably the motivation for the reply in the first place) it contributes absolutely nothing to any progress in understanding infidelity, adultery or the trauma of betrayal.

So, for those of you totally disinterested in Troll communications, read no further.  For those of you new to the terrible wastelands of adultery I recommend that you ignore this post.  In my actually being able to do this, and in wanting to do so, just demonstrates the distance travelled by me on the road to recovery.   Goodness knows how I would have felt if I had received this in the early days of my blogging?   For those of you strong enough, confident enough, interested enough, let me share with you the comments that are the verbal equivalent of battery acid. By the way, I don’t think it will take you too long to work out the status of the troll responding!

untitledYou are a bitch. Plain and simple. The fact you are content in your husband being a pig and using a woman for her body until he got bored and went back to you shows you are a cold, sadistic piece of shit. I’m surprised this is still up and going after a year and a half. Get over it. Your internalized misogyny is gross and violent. You can pretend you’re some uplifting feminist trying to rectify “girl hate” and competion but the fact you kept a man who lied and cheated and are the brink of forgiving him while slut-shaming an innocent (yes, she is innocent compared to your filth of a man) woman shows your character. I sure wish you dedicated an entire blog shaming your husband. No. You’re the bitch who gave him a slap on the wrist and had him come home to your genitals after he had his cake by sleeping with a single woman. You said she came onto him according to your husband. That’s where I first knew you were a misogynistic bitch listening to some patriarchal proganda from a man. Delete this blog, delete you and your pig of a husband, and go to hell.

So there you have it.  I grant you immediately, an incredible amount of flawed reasoning but we wouldn’t expect anything else would we?  The delusional cognitive somersaults of the Other Women are what permits her to do what she does in the first place.  The web address on the reply is not valid, but from the e-mail I can tell you that she thinks of herself as a ‘hippiegoddess’.  Didn’t hippies want to make love not war?  Aren’t goddesses greatly admired for their beauty?  Go figure!

Anyway, just for a bit of fun I thought I would poach an idea from Chump Lady who has designed a Universal Bullshit Translator to decipher the messages delivered by cheating husbands.  I thought I might tweak her idea a little bit, hoping she won’t mind, and design a Vitriolic Verbal Garbage Detector; a VVGT that can be used to decipher messages delivered by Internet Trolls.  Here goes my first attempt…

You are a bitch. Plain and simple.

You are a wife to somebody and I hate that you should be so significant.

The fact you are content in your husband being a pig and using a woman for her body until he got bored and went back to you shows you are a cold, sadistic piece of shit.

I hope and pray that you are not happy with your husband.  It unsettles me.  It’s why I’m writing to you. I am upset that Pig Shit, who worked so very hard to provide all manner of sexual delights managed to bore your husband.  How can this possibly be?  Why would a husband want to go back to the woman who he has been having sex with for years and years and years.  I despise this. I hope this message hurts you even though I don’t know you and you have done me no harm.  I am a cold sadistic piece of shit.

I’m surprised this is still up and going after a year and a half. Get over it. Your internalized misogyny is gross and violent.

I’m not dumb.  You can tell, I was there the day they did sums.  I’ve worked out that you have been writing this blog for a year and a half.  Why are you getting over it?  I was absent for psychology 101 but I think internalisation is something I understand.  Unfortunately I was sick the day they covered projection.  However you are clearly a woman who is trying to come to terms with betrayal.  With that in mind it is obvious that my reply here is gross and violent.

You can pretend you’re some uplifting feminist trying to rectify “girl hate” and competion but the fact you kept a man who lied and cheated and are the brink of forgiving him while slut-shaming an innocent (yes, she is innocent compared to your filth of a man) woman shows your character.

You haven’t said you are a feminist but I reckon you are a wannabe, unlike me.  I understand all of this.  When I was at school, in my playground we had a lot of girl hate.  I hated loads of them.  Especially the pretty ones or the ones who the boys liked. Tell me please, how have you ‘kept’ your man?  Why can’t I?  Your husband lied and cheated (don’t forget he lied to poor Pig Shit as well) so why are you forgiving him.  If you didn’t forgive him, Pig Shit would have ‘kept’ him.  Just because Pig Shit wanted your husband and participated in the conspiracy to betray you does not take her innocence away.  Does it?  I’ve been/ I am the OW and I know that these men are filth.  Any man who commits adultery is filth.  Oops – I’m not only a girl hater, I’m a man hater too.   I think your character can be summed up by the fact that you love you husband dearly and are working hard with him in order to restore your marriage.  As an Internet Troll I’m not sure how my character might be summed up.

I sure wish you dedicated an entire blog shaming your husband. No. You’re the bitch who gave him a slap on the wrist and had him come home to your genitals after he had his cake by sleeping with a single woman.

As a man hater I would much prefer you to write a blog about the filthy men who commit adultery, but you won’t and that makes you a bitch.  He should have had his balls cut off not just a slap on the wrist.  Or, and better still, he could have stayed with Pig Shit and given her all the things that are missing in her miserable life.  You’re having sex and I’m jealous.  All the OW was, was a bit of cake on the side and she was single as well – you don’t understand how lonely us single women get whilst waiting for their married man to leave their wife.

You said she came onto him according to your husband. That’s where I first knew you were a misogynistic bitch listening to some patriarchal proganda from a man.

I think you think she thought he came on to her.  You’re probably right.  Availability is the single most important factor when married men are looking for a bit of cake on the side.  But, this thought in itself is a clear indication that you hate women.  What more evidence do I need?  Plus, you don’t know but  I read a chapter on sociology once and I know about patriarchy.  Problem is I haven’t yet worked out patriarchy’s relationship to misogyny.  Can I get back to you on that?  Oh, and as you can see, I missed a few spelling lessons too.

Delete this blog, delete you and your pig of a husband, and go to hell

I would prefer it if women liked you stopped writing about the trauma of betrayal, it’s starting to get under my skin.  Why can’t you and your husband divorce! May all happily married men and women die so that I can go to hell shagging all the married men I can.

Well what do you think.  Is there any mileage in the  Vitriolic Verbal Garbage Detector?

Image Credit: Exclamation Mark Shows Attention Risk And Danger by Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net

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.

Responses To Betrayal

crying faceI discovered that I had been betrayed by my husband on August 3rd 2012.  That’s just over three years ago.  So, for over three years (1,095 days) I have been navigating my way through a marriage that I have no map for.  I never imagined for one minute, that my lovely husband, with all his boyish charm, would commit adultery.  But he did.  And I have had to accept this because, what other options are there?  “Loving you was like going to war, I never came back the same” (Warsan Shire)

Having my husband commit adultery was worse than I would ever have imagined, and to poach some prose from the acerbic and eloquent PJ O’Rourke, I would say that I have felt like I have confronted an enormous piece of machinery that I can’t comprehend and don’t know how to operate. In fact, I feel like I’m being run through that machinery.  I am wheat, rice and corn being delivered to the Nabisco factory, and I’m going to come out the other end definitely toasted, possibly shredded, and if I believe my husband’s affair can become the best thing that ever happened to me, then maybe even coated with sugar!

As Joan Didion notes in her wonderful book, The Year of Magical Thinking, “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant.”  My life changed fast when I read the words on my mobile phone which my husband’s slut decided to send me when he dumped her.  Up until this instant, I had thought that my husband’s increasingly bizarre behaviour was due to some kind of mental breakdown.  A mid-life crisis of sorts.  Once the truth came out, everything that I thought I’d figured out about life unravelled and there I stood, alone, isolated and broken.  How I wish I had known then, what I know now.  Betrayal hurts like hell and it hurts the betrayed spouse more than anyone who hasn’t experienced it can imagine.  The response is visceral.  It is as incapacitating as physical illness and I am sure that it has damaging effects on our health.  The anxiety that arises from the loss of one’s ability to trust or feel safe is all encompassing and impacts upon every aspect of our life. “The ache for home lives inside all of us, to be able to return to our safe place and not to be stressed and burdened by the world.  Home.” (José N Harris)

My response to my husband’s betrayal has been to stay together and work towards a recovery of sorts. My marriage is recovering but it is quite different now.  It would have to be wouldn’t it; I’ve changed and so has my husband so our relationship follows suit.  I’m tougher than I was (I don’t believe that life gets easier or more forgiving, it’s just that we get stronger and more resilient) and husband has joined the ranks of the grown-ups.  I mostly now grieve; for what we both lost by his decision to betray me.  When I realised I’d been deeply betrayed, grief was not part of the initial landscape.  It’s only over time that the fear, anger and frustration have given way to disappointment and disillusionment. We are now a marriage that includes adultery and this will never, never, never change and it will always hurt.  Even though we are growing roots around it, as Byron lyricises “’Tis but as ivy-leaves around the ruined turret wreath,  All green and wildly fresh without, but worn and grey beneath.” 

I do not regret my decision to stay with my husband. From his actions over the past three years I am acutely aware of his remorse for what he did.  His remorse along with his acceptance of responsibility to help me to heal has been the golden glue that has held us together.  I’ve learned that my husband is a flawed human being but this has not stopped me from loving him.  As strange as this may sound I now know that he really loves me.  When I look back at our relationship before any adultery took place he never showed his love in this way.  I guess I wasn’t looking for it and he didn’t feel the need to demonstrate his love.  Or maybe, just maybe, he had no idea just how much he loved me and how his world needed me in it.  The real threat of losing me seems to have removed an emotional blockage in him.  We are not out of the woods yet by any means but I reckon that even with the adultery that we’re dealing with, we may possess a stronger and happier marriage than many, with or without adultery.  But my loss of trust and safety, hopes and dreams must be acknowledged and mourned.    But I share these losses with so many of you.

Here in the blogging world of betrayed wives I have discovered a private cemetery that contains a secret mass grave of shared hopes and dreams and a seemingly worldwide refusal to acknowledge its existence. I read repeatedly of the pain of betrayal both from wives who stay with their betrayer and wives who don’t.  The pain is the same although the responses and remedies as varied as the personalities involved.  Adultery is a tragedy not a sexual activity.

Tragedy in life normally comes with betrayal and compromise – by trading in our integrity and failing to treat life and others in our life with respect and dignity. That’s really where the truest and the most tragic failures in life come from.  They come from making the choice to betray another soul, and in turn, giving up a piece of your own. (José N Harris)

In all of the blogs I read, written by betrayed wives, clear threads of thought link them all together. They all recognise and share the tsunami of the experience of betrayal and irrelevant of whether they’ve stayed or left their husband they all categorically view adultery as WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! They empathise and sympathise with other betrayed wives, knowing the familiar pain first hand.  By being betrayed, we have joined a club and we are all on the same side and all trying to make sense of the non-sense of adultery.  But, are we in a bubble?  I imagined that we were just the women at the top of the iceberg.  I suspected that many many more women were like us, just not writing about it.  But might I be wrong?

You see, I now can’t bear to hear about adultery.  I’m currently reading a biography about an artist I like Georgia O’Keeffe.  Love her work.  Value her individuality and the grace in which she aged.  However, I find out today that her husband was married to someone else whilst embarking on a relationship with her.  Granted it was an unhappy marriage and they were not together as such, but it got me thinking.  Trust me, before I experienced betrayal I would never have given a second thought to his unhappy first wife – but now, it’s become a mental marker for me.  I started to wonder if all betrayed wives would be as sympathetic as me and I found a contradiction immediately.  On my very own adultery doorstep!

You see, Pig Shit is a betrayed wife!!!  She is a woman who has had a husband commit adultery including the time whilst she was giving birth.  They were later divorced.  She has also had a two year relationship with a man end because he ran off with her best friend.  So please, could someone explain why she would CHOOSE to have relationships with married men, hoping that they will leave their wives?  Explain why she would want to text me as soon as my husband dumped her?

What type of response to adultery is this?

Did she not feel the pain that we feel?  Is she one of a few or part of an army of betrayed wives NOT like us who respond to betrayal by making matters worse for others?

Image Credit:  Cry Face by holohololand freedigitalphotos.net

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 is a private matter between the adulterer and his or her spouse

frameWhat values are framing the debate around adultery?

Ever since I’ve come out of the tail spin of adultery I have been seeking the answer to this question. Of course, initially, my focus of attention was narrowly focused; i.e. my husband’s behaviour and all the myriads of questions that I sought answers to from him. From here my attention widened to a broader range of resources; other personal experiences, books written by ‘experts’, literature etc., but this has all been a result of me digging to find ‘stuff’. Information has come in from many directions but it has been, in the main a very private matter.  Bottom line – the causes and explanations have remained elusive and have not assuaged my gnawing need to comprehend the world I live in. I really do feel as if I have fallen into a rabbit hole and entered a ‘Nastyland’ where betrayal and deceit continuously and consistently devastate married lives.

Why is there not more of an outrage?

I find myself, once again, returning to a favourite of mine; George Lakoff, an American cognitive linguist who studies the way words influence people politically. I consider his style of analysis a useful tool to consider the words used when adultery is discussed publicly. Might it be possible that the words we read/hear set a trap to draw people into a particular worldview of adultery? A world view that suggests its inevitability?  A very private and personal matter? An aspect of the human condition? For Lakoff, the process of trapping via language is termed ‘framing’. “Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview. It is not just language. The ideas are primary – and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas.”

So what are the ideas being carried and evoked within the wider public discourse of adultery?

Well first, we have the statistics, the bloody statistics. We seem to be bombarded by this ‘scientific evidence’. Perel refers to a range of them in her TED talk, reminding us that it depends on the definition of infidelity. The stats spit out a varying array of percentages which cannot be confirmed but suggest that up to 75 % of men and 60% of women have committed adultery. Who commissions this research? Who participates? What type of questions get asked?

Adultery leading to divorce might provide a more accurate set of data. Interestingly, in the UK, adultery as a reason cited for divorce is actually dropping.  “Warring couples are only half as likely to cite adultery as the cause of a marriage breakdown than they were 40 years ago, but claims of unreasonable behaviour have rocketed, analysis of more than 5m divorce cases has shown.” Research that The Guardian looked at “found that while in the 70s, 29% of marriages ended because of adultery, the latest figures show only 15% of divorces were down to infidelity.” Perel didn’t mention this. The truth is, we will never really know how often people commit adultery or under what circumstances. Equally, we can never know how faithful people are either.

However, I am anxious that these data are used to help frame the debate around adultery by implying that monogamy is unnatural and that vast numbers of married people habitually cheat on their spouses. This frame can then be used to justify adulterous behaviour both for the adulterer and for all the money spinning businesses that feed off of adultery,eg web sites like Ashley Madison. This belief prompts the suggestion that we betrayed spouses should ‘lighten up’ and take a more continental approach to our husbands having a mistress; we should just get off their backs and let them screw around a bit!  With no data that I’m aware of that concerns itself with the pain and trauma for these continental betrayed spouses are we to suppose that they either accept their partner’s infidelity with a certain panache or stoically accept the natural Mediterranean order of things?

Anyway, the statistics are a smoke screen. Even IF every other person in the world is committing adultery it remains a dishonourable act, engendering rotten behaviour rooted in a morass of secrecy and shame that unquestionably wounds everybody.

Like most things, adultery does not occur in a vacuum. It is a social phenomenon. But until the recent Ashley Madison hack there wasn’t really a public debate to explore how adultery is framed in a socio-political context.  It’s almost as if, up until this event, unless it was tabloid headings of celebrity infidelity or head numbing statistics, adultery was off the public radar. Which is what makes the AM hack so interesting. Words are powerful instruments and I guess nobody understands this as much as the media. An examination of the choice of words used can offer a window into the dominant understandings or world views.

I want to take a closer look at Glenn Greenwald’s article about the AM hacking which appeared in the online publication (which he helps edit), The Intercept on August 20th 2015. Greenwald is no lightweight in media circles. He is an American lawyer, journalist and author and was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2013. Four of the five books he has written have been on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

The Ashley Madison hack is very interesting in as much as the topic of adultery is a side dish to the main news event which is the on-going concern with digital privacy (although you wouldn’t necessarily privacythink so). We live in a world which keeps a digital trace on us all. How safe is that data and who should have access to it needs to concern us all. Hacking is theft of data. When someone steals valuable gems from a jewellery shop there is no investigation into the jewellery business or the people involved in it. However, the people who stole the gems are thieves as are the people who knowingly bought the stolen gems. We understand the crime and have designed a penal system (not to mention insurance business) that addresses it. However, with theft of information and that information being stolen just to be given away for nothing presents a whole new set of scenarios. Old and new chestnuts to chew over! But Greenwald chose to wade in with a different aspect and it is this which is so informative and provides clues to the public frame of adultery. He chose to attack the ‘puritanical glee’ which he identified as the reaction to the hack. The puritanical glee produced because of the topic of the website in question; adultery, not the invasion of privacy per se.

For Greenwald, it would appear that if we object to adultery we object to the private, sexual acts of other adults. He says “that the cheating scoundrels of Ashley Madison got what they deserved was a widespread sentiment yesterday. Despite how common both infidelity and online pornography are, tweets expressing moralistic glee were legion.” Firstly, let’s explore the language ‘cheating scoundrels’. This is a euphemistic expression to define people prepared to betray their spouses. The only proper term for them is an adulterer. A cheating scoundrel sounds childish and less harmful. I can cheat playing monopoly – ooh, I’m such a scoundrel! Secondly, let’s explore the language ‘despite how common both infidelity and online pornography are’. This is using the same set of assumptions that the stats try to convey. Because there’s so much infidelity and pornography it is normal, acceptable human behaviour and if we don’t approve we become guilty of being puritanical.

He goes on: “It’s hard to overstate the devastation to some people’s lives from having their names published as part of this hack: not only to their relationships with their spouses and children but to their careers, reputations, and — depending on where they live — possibly their liberty or even life.” Hello! Someone has disappeared from view here? What about the devastation caused TO the betrayed spouse and family? What about their hurt? Nothing, instead we are encouraged to think about the adulterers’ devastation at being found out and the consequences of this. Consequences that they should have been well aware of at the time of making the choice to be adulterous.

For Dan Savage, an American political activist, author, media pundit and journalist who cared to join the debate, it was clear; Ashley Madison clients need to stop hanging their heads in shame and start fighting back—e.g., telling their truths and defending themselves. The implications here?  No two adulteries are the same.  Some adulteries are positively beneficial.  These are the infidelities that save marriages, that are mutually agreed to within marriages [I get a bit lost here, seems like an oxymoron ‘mutually-agreed adultery’] and where there is no easily identifiable victim or the victimization was mutual [More than lost here, I’m afraid!].

So the framing of adultery begins to get more nuanced.  Greenwald wants us to recognise that just because someone’s name appears in the Ashley Madison database does not mean they have engaged in marital infidelity. “Some may use the site as pornography because it titillates them, or because they are tempted to cheat but are resisting the urge, or because they’re married but in a relationship where monogamy is not demanded.”

OMG!

Using the site as pornography? Please, I’m not really expected to believe this am I? But also, can you see how this language makes pornography acceptable? ‘Tempted to cheat, but resisting the urge’; how I love the myth of heroic self-control. Sex is not a need, food is a need. Sex is a want. Get over it! Now, what about if they are in a marriage where ‘monogamy is not demanded’? If monogamy is not required why on earth would there be any problem in being open about sexual relations with others? Agreed, your data should have been better protected, but the information that you are on the site should not pose a problem for either you or your spouse. Should it? But here we have a further framing of adultery as something that some couples are perfectly OK with.  The truth is, adultery wounds even in an open marriage because of the betrayal, not because of the sexual activity.

We get to find out that Greenwald, like Savage, believes that there can be good reasons for adultery. “There are a lot of people out there who have good [my emphasis] cause to cheat. Men and women trapped in sexless marriages, men and women trapped in loveless marriages, men and women who have essentially been abandoned sexually and/or emotionally by spouses they aren’t in a position to leave—either because their spouses are economically dependent on them (or vice versa) or because they may have children who are dependent on both partners.” Greenwald’s adulterers are ‘trapped’,’ abandoned sexually and emotionally’ – only remaining in their marriage because of financial reasons. Poor souls! It’s clear where Greenwald’s sympathies lie and it’s not with the betrayed spouse.

Then we get a real life example of the person with every ‘entitlement’ to commit adultery. Bring on the violins. No doubt he received hundreds of e-mails but we only get the details of one. “An e-mail from a woman who has two children with special needs, who has been out of the workforce for 15 years, and who is financially dependent on a husband who decided five years into their marriage that he was “done with sex” but refuses to allow her to have sex with anyone else. The marriage is good otherwise, [Sorry, how can the marriage be good OTHERWISE, this doesn’t logically follow through for me] she and her husband have an affectionate, low-conflict relationship, their kids are happy and well cared for, but sexual deprivation is driving her out of her mind and threatening both her marriage and her children’s health and security.” Same old, same old – sexual deprivation. Animal needs. Can’t be contained. Need expression. Greenwald says he would have given her AM’s website details if it was before the hack! What if she wasn’t in any kind of relationship? Tinder?

He goes on to pose a question “if cheating is your only form of sexual fulfilment , is it clearly morally wrong?” So again we have the euphemism, ‘cheating’ but now linked to animal sexual urges that can’t be controlled. When can it ever be morally correct to betray someone, to lie to them and take away their reality so that you can get your rocks off?

He places all his cards on the deck when he says “but whatever else is true, adultery is a private matter between the adulterer and his or her spouse.”

But it isn’t is it?

That’s just the point that he appears to have totally missed. It’s not a private matter between the adulterer and spouse. It is a private matter between the adulterer and other person they are having sex with. It’s a private matter between the adulterer, the other person and all the others who are complicit with and collude in the activity.

This notion of adultery being a private matter is a huge part of the public framing of adultery.  Firstly it separates the act from the public and social-political sphere and secondly it is shorthand for ‘back off’ – the idea is that it has nothing to do with anyone else.

Wasn’t there a time when domestic violence was considered a private matter between the spouses? Didn’t this rhetoric help to silence the victims of domestic abuse for years?

For me adultery is morally wrong whichever way it’s looked at. Does this make me puritanical? I wouldn’t think so. I don’t much care what consenting adults get up to sexually. I’m very broad minded and have what I consider to be a personal healthy appetite. However, whether it is an orgy of twenty plus people or a fumble in the back seat of a car, if it involves lying to a spouse I have deep moral objections. The public debate needs to move away from the adulterer and the eroticisation of their activities to the trauma experienced via the adultery by the betrayed spouse.

The truth is, Mr Greenwald, (who clearly does not ‘get it’) adultery only becomes something of a private matter between spouses when the adultery is discovered! Then, it is a private tsunami of shock, anger, grief and shame. To apply the words of Nancy Mairs when discovering that her husband was with another woman: “This sense of my own extinction will prove the most tenacious and terrifying of my responses, the one that keeps me flat on my back in the night, staring into the dark, gasping for breath, as though I’ve been buried alive.” Mairs had previously committed adultery and betrayed her husband, but it wasn’t until she experienced her husband’s betrayal of her that the devastating effects of adultery hit home.  It is a pity that Greenwald did not consider the AM hacking and subsequent leaks from the betrayed spouses and children’s point of views. This would go some small way to extend the frame of the debate.

Image Credits: Think Outside The Frame by winnond; Privacy Magnifier Represents Secret Confidentially And Magnification by Stuart Miles freedigitalphotos.net