Several months after discovering my husband’s affair, I found the Rethinking Infidelity TED talk by Esther Perel. It struck a chord with me and I found so much in common with my own disintegrating marriage. I began searching out other peoples’ stories and started my blog. When I opened the Dolly Allen Twitter account, I followed others going through the same thing. I found Walking the Journey early on. She had already been navigating what was only beginning for me and I poured over every entry on her blog. I’ve been rooting for her!
Recently, I began following CadConfessional on Twitter and reading a blog from his perspective, that of a man who cheated, Old Black Waters. He is remorseful but unable to speak with his betrayed as she has gone no contact. I shouldn’t feel badly, after all he’s a cheater right? But I find myself in the odd position of sympathizing with him, not about his role in the cheating, but as a human being in pain. I find myself rooting for him as well.
I know the pain I felt when I discovered the affair. I kept it from my husband until the divorce papers were drawn up. Had he left as I initially asked, we’d probably be divorced by now. But he didn’t. And we fought. Viciously. It helped release the pain as once the rage was out, the dialogue started.
On Twitter this morning, CadConfessional tweeted:
“Been reading the last half of chapter 12 and the chapter on the OW in
@EstherPerel ‘s book #TheStateofAffairs . I completely agree. I haven’t talked about it b/c it will piss ppl off & perhaps reopen other ppl’s wounds. Not my intent. But I will talk about it later…”
I bought Esther Perel’s book when it was released in October. I have not read it yet. But after reading the tweet, I skimmed through the OW chapter. It is written mostly from the point of view of long term affair relationships and doesn’t really address my own personal situation.
I tweeted back and forth with CadConfessional. He referred to this Perel quote: “We’re quick to blame infidelity for the breakdown of relationships, but perhaps the more destructive factor in many cases is a dogged insistence on sexual exclusivity at all costs.” –
Dolly: “Sexual exclusivity” is a vow we took to each other, not to mention the fact that when you go elsewhere, you risk your partners health with STD’s. So yes, that is a problem…
Cad: I agree sexual exclusivity is a vow we make but I perceive
@EstherPerel point is monogamy is often a romantic ideal that’s sets us up for failure. It creates a limit to the depth of vulnerability. My keeping secrets was driven by anxieties & fear. I didn’t think I’d be heard.
He asked some questions. So from my perspective, I will try and answer them.
1. Expectations of monogamy as an ideal – My feelings prior to the affair was if you are going to commit to a relationship, especially marriage, fidelity is non negotiable. Notwithstanding sex addicts and narcissists who will never be satisfied with one partner, I believe the expectation of fidelity is there for most people in committed relationships. I always said, if you are unhappy, leave. I am not a person who likes to share. If I am not good enough for you, go so I can find someone who does think I’m good enough. I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me.
2. Expectations of marriage as an institution – My expectations of marriage, not to sound corny, but read the standard vows, ‘for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or worse…’ We began our relationship, then marriage that way. We had two special needs children and in pouring our attention to them, we lost our relationship along the way. The stresses of daily life, kids, finances, no help from family, all contributed to us growing further apart.
3. Expectations on your marriage and your H – Our communication suffered. We would argue about stupid stuff, he always said it was the little things. I would try and tell him it was the bigger things, but he refused to listen. Eventually, we would argue for the sake or arguing. It was petty and nasty. I nit-picked over everything. I eventually brought up divorce and he said there would be no divorce. But there was no real communication either.
4. Limits on vulnerability & intimacy in the face of personal and social expectations – I never conducted myself and neither did he in the face of social expectations. I always considered myself vulnerable to him personally, I tried to talk to him but perhaps didn’t approach it the right way and he admits now that he never really ‘heard’ what I was trying to convey.
5. Realities of the limits on communication & relationships tools we bring to the table – The reality is that we both had shitty communication and relationship tools in respect to our personalities. I am all emotion, he is total logic. My communication was viewed as ‘hysterical’ to him and his communication was unrealistic and unfeeling to me. Neither ‘heard’ what the other was saying.
6. Society’s pressure on couples to conform to set of outside defined norms – Again, I don’t function on society’s expectations. We had a very limited outside circle. We were consumed with our sons, our extended families were both pretty dysfunctional and didn’t help us, so we were basically on our own. I had my circle of friends, but we didn’t really socialize as couples.
7. Expectations post discovery – My expectation? DIVORCE. I was in a rage. I wanted revenge. I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to hurt her. If I could have had them arrested I would have. I wanted to make him pay. I wanted to make his life miserable. I was a raving lunatic. My blood pressure was at stroke level. If I did not have my kids, I would have left.
8. What is a vow and at what point in time is it negotiate able? – I don’t think this is worded in a way I like. A vow is not negotiable. But my hard line of ‘you cheat, you’re gone’ is not that easy to follow once in the situation. My husband is not a sex addict or narcissist. His character is not one to cheat and he had a hard time reconciling what he did. We were in a bad place and while it does not condone or excuse his cheating, it has to be acknowledged. If our marriage was not where it was, he would not have cheated, even though I maintain that no matter how bad things were, he should have left me rather than cheated. My Catch 22.
9. The criminalizing of infidelity and the lack of neutral, no judgemental language by which to discuss it. – Read my answer 7. There is no neutral, non judgmental way to discuss it in the beginning. I believe the more ‘civil’ discussions take place after the anger, rage and pain are worked out a bit. For me, it took about 3 weeks of horrible, raging, abysmal juvenile behavior on my part aimed straight at him before finally breaking down in tears. And then we talked.
CadConfessional, I penned this post pretty quickly and am running out myself to get some things done. When you have a chance, I am curious to know how you answer the same questions you have posed to me…
Anyone else want to chime in? I’d love to hear your thoughts… xo Dolly