Coping With Infidelity is a four-part series that aims to remove the culture of silence and shame around infidelity – and start a conversation among readers about why it hurts and how to survive it. Our aim is to help others struggling with this to know that they’re not alone. The author has chosen to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of her children. Read Part 1 here.
Part 2: Enough with the silence
If you’ve ever rented a limo, you know there’s a glass partition that separates the driver from his passengers. It makes a distinct sound and is the adult equivalent of a toddler covering his ears and yelling “nah nah nah nah” when you start talking about bedtime.
That’s what it feels like to talk about infidelity.
I’ve spent the last few years blogging about every detail of my life. My kids, my job, my marriage, my Pinterest fails, even infertility… nothing was off limits. Then I found out my husband was having an affair with his co-worker and suddenly I felt like I was expected to keep quiet about one of the most devastating things that’s ever happened to me. Conversations would often go like this:
“So now I’m trying to figure out…”
“I’m not sure why he….”
“I feel like …”
Very quickly, I began to feel like I was being pitied not because my husband cheated and my whole world was in shambles, but because of the humiliation I surely felt at finding out I was second fiddle in my own marriage.
Partly out of anger, partly as an attempt to process my new reality, I wanted to tell everyone what had happened. “I’ve been wronged!”, “can you believe what he did to me?” and “he’s a lying bastard!” were the subtexts of every conversation. I was blatantly recruiting for team ME but I had other motivation as well. Almost immediately after emerging from the initial fog I was determined to prove I wasn’t humiliated. This was not an act, a façade or an attempt at bravery. It was the truth. As a writer, I believe if you’ve learned something you should share it, especially if it can help someone else. I use my voice every single day and absolutely refuse to let his actions take that away.
Adultery is a painful, deeply personal and emotional experience and, understandably, most women don’t share this openly. But what I don’t understand and cannot abide is the shame; the shame that clings to wronged women; the shame that tells us it’s 1950 and we did a shitty job of keeping our man happy, or that there must be something wrong with us if our husband cheated.
There’s a stigma around infidelity and it’s rooted in humiliation
Humiliation is a complicated thing and most people are very uncomfortable with it. We don’t know what to say, or do. It’s the elephant in the room. Humiliation is not a headache that goes away with aspirin, or a broken bone that can be reset. It’s awkward, deeply personal, and it exists outside the short, often perfunctory interactions that populate our lives. If you want to have a candid and honest conversation about adultery, you need to address the humiliation or lack thereof.
Admitting and processing the grief and hurt that comes with infidelity are incredibly difficult things to do, and most of us would rather conduct this business in private. Many of us blame ourselves too, and we often wonder if or how we caused our partner’s affair. Voicing our hurt can give it new life, and speculating on the how and why can open us up to more guilt, more self-recrimination. So we stay silent; some by choice, some by default because no one else understands or really wants to talk about it.
Even our most well-intentioned confidantes will often fail at helping us process the mess our lives have become. Like us, they want an explanation and someone to blame but we, the wronged party, know in our heart of hearts it’s not always that simple. Talking about our husband’s infidelity means wading into uncomfortable conversations about our marriages, habits, quirks and sex lives. Blech.
However, what’s so frustrating and so galling is that the stigma and shame associated with infidelity seem to cling to the wronged party as much, if not more, than the offender. Betrayed women are pitied and whispered about (often with good intentions) but people undeniably feel bad for us.
When I found out my husband was cheating I was (and still am) an independent working woman with a great job, two young children, and a life of friends and interests outside my husband’s. Until I found out, I was happy, self-assured and certain of my place in the world. Being the “victim” has been a difficult pill for me to swallow, and a label I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
People don’t like dealing with things they can’t understand
Part of the taboo around infidelity is built on the fact that affairs – especially those of seemingly happy couples – are confusing and shocking, and people don’t like dealing with things they can’t understand. When the affair is discovered it is so at odds with what we thought we knew that our entire sense of who these people are is turned upside down.
We think things like: “I had no idea he was like that,” or “I wonder why he cheated on her (subtext: what’s wrong with her?)” Our friends feel the same disorientation and confusion that we do and very few of them are prepared, equipped or willing to wade into that discomfort.
There were people who knew about my experience but were reluctant to engage in meaningful discussion, as though doing so would invite an affair into their own lives as well. There is a sense of “if it can happen to her, maybe it can happen to me.” But infidelity is not ebola. It’s not contagious.
In society at large, we talk about affairs using verbs like “cheating” and “messing around” which minimizes the real act and the impact of it.
My husband had sex with another woman. Multiple times.
He didn’t “stray,” he’s not a house cat. Let’s call it what it is and stop talking in euphemisms that only add to the “nothing to see here, everything is fine, let’s just ignore and move on” type of culture.
My husband’s affair has been the single most isolating experience of my life, including infertility and depression. My job as a writer is to tell stories, and I pride myself on being able to wade into discomfort in pursuit of truth.
Not being able to share my pain openly, or reach out in the name of shared understanding and experiences, is yet another thing his affair has cost me.