Put yourself in this scenario: your wife leaves you alone in the room while she goes and takes a shower.
You’re sitting there doing nothing until you notice it: her cell phone.
It’s just sitting there innocently, right next to you.
And she’s in the shower, so there’s no chance she’ll walk in.
And you’ve been wondering who she was texting before she went into the shower.
Oh, and look at that … you know the password. So, what do you do?
A client I was working with was in this exact situation … and he made a choice that changed his 29-year marriage forever.
He grabbed her phone and started reading every text message and every incoming/outgoing call before she got out of the shower.
He wasn’t always a snooper, he said, but he suspected something was going on with her.
That night, he found hundreds of text messages, emails and phone calls between his wife and another man.
His head exploded, he said. He was furious and immediately confronted her.
She did not deny it; the damage was done.
His whole world was turned upside down and she was tearful, ashamed and guilty.
Although they are currently on the road to repair, he is still haunted by the daily images of her with another man, and by memories of their happy family, which now feels tainted.
The research shows that there is a 40% increase in the number of women having affairs since 1990, as economic and social conditions have changed, while men’s rates have held steady.
The primary discussion around affairs in this culture is usually about their impact; rarely are there discussions about the meaning and motives of the affair.
Instead, most of them talk about what’s wrong with the involved partner or their marriage—i.e., early trauma, narcissism, addictive personality—pathologies of all kinds.
Another discussion is about the victim perpetrator model.
This model of affairs gives the victim ample compassion and demands that the perpetrator feel remorse and repair.
This model is simplistic and ultimately unproductive in helping the couple understand the complexity of the situation so that they can begin the healing process. The experience of infidelity is so pervasive, and so poorly understood that I don’t think it can be reduced to good and bad, victim and perpetrator.
I am not defending adulterers, but I do think that adulterers sometimes get a bad rap.
We need a conversation that embraces the complexity of relational dynamics leading to the affair and is more caring and compassionate for everybody involved.
Absolutely, an affair always involves a breach of trust and it’s an act of betrayal.
It involves lies and secrecy. But there are all kinds of things happening in the relationship, and betrayal can come in many forms.
I think the hurt partner tends to think they have the moral high ground because their partner breached the contract. For example, the betrayed man, trying to intimidate his wife yells at her, “You had an affair, you cheated on me, you f&*king slut … you bitch.”
But usually the contract has been breached many times. If we pretend that this betrayal (meaning the affair) tops all the others, I think we do a disservice to honesty and to marriage.
The context must be taken into consideration.
Yet many marriages crumble under the pressure and in the digital age, it has never been easier to cheat and never more difficult to keep a secret.
A marriage cannot be affair-proofed. Happy people stray too.
I see people in satisfying, happy relationships who tell me, “I love my spouse and I had an affair.”
It’s not that they want to leave their spouse; it’s that they want to leave the person they have themselves become.
This may be an overgeneralization, but in my practice I have found that for a betrayed woman, an affair is an offense against her dignity and for a betrayed man, it’s an offense against his manhood. It goes right to the core of his identity.
How to Get Back on Track:
Healing from the aftermath of an affair is a complex process and typically takes a minimum of three years. If you are having difficulty and want to stay in your marriage help is available.
Love & blessings,
Paula M. Smith, M.Div., MFT | 401-782-7899
Certified Imago Therapist | Marriage Scholar | Couples Transformationist