Writing about infidelity has its share of occupational hazards. You will find yourself attacked by angry people who think they know everything.
As The Other Woman, I’ve come in for my share of hazing and attacks. Gleaned from these are the following most common stupid opinions:
1.) “The third party wrecked my marriage and my home!”
Here’s the truth: An affair is the last symptom of problems in a marriage, not the first symptom. When an affair happens, the fact is that the two people in the marriage have been hurting one another for a long time. The problem is that neither of them discussed it. Or, when someone tried, repair attempts on the part of one person went unnoticed and unheeded by the other. Finally, all communication broke down, and one desperate party went outside the marriage to complain to someone else (me).
There’s also the scenario where one party is a malignant narcissist or has a sex addiction or other mental or emotional disorder, and has just been acting out the entire time, and the other party didn’t see the signs.
Either way, problems have been brewing for a long, long time. The affair is not when the problems start. The affair is when the problems become visible in a way that neither marriage partner can ignore the problems any longer.
2.) “I wish women were kinder to each other. Women shouldn’t steal each other’s husbands/boyfriends.”
There are some ethics around that. No, we shouldn’t … but we don’t need to be stupid, either.
In my case, this was how it went:
I understood, when I became attracted to my married man, that I was in a position of grave responsibility and that what I did could hurt other people very, very badly. (And this knowledge once sent me to the ER with an hour-long panic attack.)
In this situation, however, I saw that the person I cared about had been abused in his childhood home, and also potentially in his current home.
If we “Others” see you emotionally and/or physically abusing your spouse, we don’t have to have sympathy for that. For my part, I can and will step in and say, “Look, something’s wrong with this person’s behavior. It isn’t you, you’re an adorable person, and you’re wrong to think this behavior is your fault.” And I will do that with a clear conscience. “Others” can also recommend that your spouse go to therapy, and can do that with a clear conscience.
If your spouse indicates to us that they don’t want to save the marriage, they’re ready to leave, and they want to be with us, we can accept that with a clear conscience as well. With a signed divorce decree and all necessary papers filed on time where they are supposed to go.
What “Others” cannot do with a clear conscience is:
a.) Observe a situation in which one party is asking to go to marriage counseling, and choose to remain involved in the marriage.
b.) Observe a situation which we know could probably improve if the parties went to counseling, and stay and manipulate the spouse out of the marriage instead of recommending that counseling.
c.) Observe a situation in which counseling broke down or hasn’t happened yet, and a person is afraid to leave the marriage, but, because they’re still unhappy, they’re trying to get any of their needs met with us which should properly be met by the marriage partner, and stay involved and encourage dishonesty on the part of this person.
d.) And if they’re married, don’t sleep with ’em. Geesh. Unless it’s a clear situation where the spouse does not want your boy/girlfriend and the divorce is clearly in the works, your ass is in the wrong. Get out of their bed. Now.
And that’s just the way it is. Even if the “Other” loves the spouse. Even if it breaks their heart.
An “Other” crossing these lines could rightfully be said to be stealing your spouse. And that’s uncool.
But what can you do about it? Nothing!
All that’s in your power to do, if you’re the wronged spouse, is get yourself into therapy and work as hard as you can on your own problems. If your spouse has expressed dissatisfaction honestly to you, you need to address what in you prevents you from meeting your spouse’s needs.
It’s also on you to know yourself and communicate needs honestly to your spouse rather than letting resentment fester in your relationship.
Some folks are unscrupulous, but you can’t control them, only you. And it’s not fair to call them unscrupulous if you’re throwing glass in your own house, your spouse is cut and bleeding, and you will not pick up a broom, much less go for the bandages.
3.) “Cheating is selfish.”
I firmly believe (and I have experts who back me up) that cheating is the result of attachment issues that began years ago when we were babies and very young children.
Something happened in the home that disrupted our ability to connect fully and freely to another human being and to anticipate and trust that our needs would be met. Something impeded our ability to know and share our emotions. Something made us feel like inferior, unlovable human beings.
In my situation, something happened that gave two of us (the females) a control-freak streak about a mile wide.
In Husband’s case, mom was an alcoholic and dad was a dishrag codependent. In my case, mom had borderline personality disorder, and dad and stepdad were both dishrag codependents. In Wife’s case, as far as I am led to understand, she was a very sensitive little girl squelched by a domineering mother.
We may not remember it. We may think our childhood was normal, or even wonderful. But it happened, and the scars show up every time we can’t connect in our marriages, every time we can’t talk about problems, every time fear prevents us from leaving even when we know we should, and every time we bring our pain to a third party instead.
Look at the three of us:
I have an abbreviated family history for all three people in our triangle and I have Diane Poole-Heller and Pia Mellody (if you don’t know those names, look them up! Fascinating and necessary reading.)
I even have our horoscope charts (details on the Yods tab). And all of these sources agree:
The two women in the triangle both have a strong need to control, and we’ve picked out a weak male who asks to be controlled, believes he has no choice because he is unlovable, and then resents it. The husband and I are textbook examples of anxious attachment; the wife is a textbook example of avoidant attachment (and the control needs of each female are a little bit of disorganized attachment thrown in). All three of us are codependent. All three of us had serious problems with a parent at home growing up. Both the wife and I lost our fathers at an early age.
The cure for what ails us is spelled, hard work in therapy on our own pain and brokenness from childhood.
People don’t cheat because they are selfish. Unless it’s a caregiving situation with an incapacitated spouse, people cheat because they’ve been in serious emotional pain from earliest childhood, they haven’t been raised with exposure to a better way, and they don’t know how else to handle it.
4.) “You should be ashamed of staying with someone who cheated.”
My married ex-man has been married over thirty years. They’ve had beautiful children and grandchildren and have a lovely family. Neither is a bad person.
If a marriage and family can survive unbroken, then they should (no matter what ending I myself would prefer.)
The best outcome for this family is for the wounds to be healed and the marriage to become real.
The last I heard, it looked real to everyone else, when in reality, it was still an emotional divorce between two people passing like ghosts in the same house. And one person was really, really hurting about this. For twenty-six years and counting.
The trick here is that this healing process requires work. And work is a four-letter word.
In order to save a marriage, you need to work, not on “fixing up that other person so they show up as the person they always used to be,” but on fixing yourself.
And that’s tough.
Nobody wants to do that.
When one person in the marriage is ready to do that and the other person isn’t, that’s when the marriage should end. And for the person ready to work and change, divorce is going to be a matter of self-preservation.
But sometimes, sometimes, both people are ready to do the work, and the relationship makes an amazing and beautiful breakthrough. That is a great triumph of the spirit and in no way shameful.
If you are on the outside looking in at the relationship, you have no way of knowing for sure what happened (unless you were a fly on the wall in their counselor’s office.)
In short, if they’re holding hands and they’re happy and they’re glad they stayed together, be happy for them and BUTT OUT.
(Even if it is Bill and Hillary Clinton.)
5.) “I have the right to pass judgement on what you did.”
Personally, I’ve done an exhaustive amount of work on understanding all three people and all the issues involved. I didn’t just go on the fact that I’ve seen so-and-so socially for thirty years, therefore I think I know all the issues involved. And, yeah, you need to look to see if you are being lied to. Duh.
I’ve done tons of work on this for six years, and that’s because the whole situation upset me greatly. It was important to me that, when it was all over, I could live with what I chose to do.
And, despite all the work I’ve done, I’m still prepared to admit that I could be wrong about it all, if I’m presented with new evidence that shows me that.
All onlookers to an affair, involved peripherally in any of the relationships or not, need to be prepared to do the same thing. Chances are all you have is opinions, and no work on actually understanding the situation under your belt at all.
If this is you … SHUT UP.
6.) No, taking sides does not help anyone. Even when it looks like it does.