Infidelity is more than betrayal....it is traumatic!Some people think it unfathomable that someone could experience severe trauma following the disclosure of a spouses infidelity. They can imagine how natural disasters, accidents, robberies or war could cause PTSD because the threat of physical harm and horror are imaginable. People can visualize dead bodies, mangled limbs, having your possessions taken from you at gunpoint, yet it's very hard to visualize trauma to the heart. Infidelity wounds are invisible to the eye, so those who have never experienced infidelity see the torment of the betrayed spouse as an overreaction. They have a hard time fathoming how the horror of powerlessness and helplessness can be felt in a situation that hasn't caused any physical damage. Damage that can be measured in some form or another, whether it be possessions lost, limbs lost, bruises acquired, body counts or number of stitches - these are all things that one can put a value on. Crimes, natural disasters, wars, and accidents are not personal. Though those events are traumatic, they do not feel like a personal attack, singling you out exclusively. There is an "in the wrong place at the wrong time" nature to them. Infidelity feels like a malicious ambush targeted toward you, the unaware recipient. As your spouse plots, plans and hides behind lies, waiting for the moment to pounce. The moment they can release all their fury upon your heart. It feels designed to willfully inflict a mass amount of pain - an undercover operation to steel your dignity, pride, and dreams. It's as if your spouse is waiting for just the right moment to set the bomb off. It's an ambushing, robbing and murdering of your soul. The moment you realize you are under attack, it's too late to do anything. The fireball of hurt has already ripped through your heart. Compounding the hurt is an attitude of, "it just happened." "No," you say, "it didn't just happen. Car accidents just happen, broken bones just happen, infidelity is a calculated set of lies and choices - a covert operation, planed, controlled, directed and orchestrated by you!" Once the extraction is complete, leering at your anguish, as if now, you understand their disgust for you, and sneering with achievement as you accept their hatred. No respect is given to the gift of commitment upheld by you. It is implied as burdensome and irritating. Infidelity is torture of the heart, callous, calculated and cruel. It feels like acid eating through the depths of your soul, burning away the innocence of hope. In it's place the scars of cynicism wrap themselves around the belief in truth and justice. The phantom pains of love give rise to an inferno of rage, reopening the wounds of injustice. As the pain from the mutilation of your innocence assault every moral value, you judge yourself in blame. Infidelity says, my toleration of your inadequacy has reached an end. Yet these things are immeasurable to those who haven't experienced the pain. Only those who have experienced infidelity have a perceptible point of reference.
The pain of infidelity feels like a personal attack...
Infidelity feels like intense hate that is meant to agonizingly carve the love right out of your heart. A sadistic and vengeful way to say, "I despise you like no other person on earth." It is the combination of evil and hate that rips at your heart, spitting a venom of condemnation, from someone who feels like the devil; only this time the devil is wearing your spouses face. From an enemy you may expect such ruthlessness, but not from your spouse. It is the ultimate rejection of your very being from the person who knows you the most. It is horror that terrorizes every moment of your life as it kills your dreams of what your life is, was, and will be. The shock of the assault feels no different than if your spouse plunged a knife deep into your heart, while you let out a bloodcurdling scream of destruction to your self-esteem and safety. It is mocking of your love, a statement of reprisal. The confusion so overwhelming and dismaying - How could this person who claimed to love you, dispose of your affections so ruthlessly, tearing them from your heart one vicious and bloody slash after another. Once the extraction is complete, leering at your anguish, as if now, you understand their disgust for you; sneering with achievement as you accept their hatred. No respect is given to the gift of commitment upheld by you. It is implied as burdensome and irritating.
The truth is…
Though you feel like you've been ambushed, your spouse actually was not thinking of you at all. An ambush takes planning, calculation, and is an intentional process of anticipating your next move. Your spouse was not planning various ways to destroy you (even though that was the consequence), they were planning various ways to get around you. This realization is just as hurtful, knowing you were not in their awareness to any considerable degree; not even enough to be regarded as collateral damage. You were a mere obstacle to get around. The primary goal was the preservation of what they wanted, and you were not not even held in their mind. If you were ambushed, you would need to be considered on some level significant and worth notice; yet their radar was not pointed at you, you were not even an afterthought until the fallout affected them. Affairs are about selfishness, and the consequence of that selfishness is those who are devastated in it's wake.
Some people believe that having good self-esteem can solve everything and make you impervious to hurt - this is simply not true.Healthy self-esteem does not make people impervious to pain or suffering, but it does better equip them to recover from these situations. If you consider part of your identity to include your role as a spouse (as most do), the shattering of self-esteem is inevitable upon discovery of infidelity. For some people, this shattering is more devastating than it is to others. For those who've invested the majority of their identity into being a wife or husband, the shattering of self-esteem is far reaching.
Our self-esteem continually fluctuates and is affected by events and encounters with other people. We are constantly judging and evaluating ourselves, often in comparison with others. Observing ourselves in relation to other people can be a source of learning and feedback. When someone validates what you already believe about yourself, it is a measure by which beliefs are reinforced. Yet after infidelity, comparisons with the affair partner become a yardstick by which we evaluate ourselves as good or bad, competent or inadequate, inferior or lacking in some way. When infidelity occurs, we perceive a threat to our status, and our idea of our own self-value is threaten. When our belief, that we are of value to our partner, is shattered by infidelity, a threat to our status in the romantic relationship reeks havoc on our self-esteem. When that role is put in jeopardy by choices you, yourself, did not make, it's confusing, degrading and devaluing. Self-esteem is the value or respect that a person has for oneself - discovering infidelity shatters the value one assumes they posses.
If we are so valueless to the one who was supposed to love, value, and cherish us the most, we conclude we must not be as important and valuable as we had believed. When a spouse has constructed their lives around the development and maintenance of the marriage relationship, embracing this role as part of his or her identity, then suddenly finds out that the main part of their lives is a mistaken belief, a falsehood of what their reality actually consists of; this causes a great deal of embarrassment, sorrow, anger, shame and confusion. The shattering of self-esteem leads to a negative evaluation of ones self, and character-logical self-blame creeps in. The hurt at finding out your spouse sees you as disposable and replaceable produces a pain like no other. Infidelity touches ones perception of gullibility like no other life event. We personalize the infidelity and experience physical, emotional, and cognitive arousal, leading us to hyper vigilance in attempts to repel more pain. Infidelity is so alarming, confusing and ripe with powerlessness that we unconsciously respond by shifting into self-blame; giving us the illusion we can control further infidelity if we just do something differently.
Healing the self after infidelity is very different from healing the marriage. The majority of infidelity research focuses on restoring the marriage, and little is given in the way of support for the horrific wounds of the the betrayed spouses heart and soul. Betrayed spouses seem to be left to navigate the stormy waters of betrayal on their own. Scouring book stores, internet sites and therapists offices for some shred of how to overcome the immense pain. Looking for answers seems to yield little in the way of specific steps to transcend such a life altering event. Reading book after book, bit's and pieces are pulled from the pages, in hopes of assembling some sort of healing plan. Of course just like every instance of infidelity isn't the same, neither is the reaction of the betrayed spouse the same in all cases. I think most would agree though, that it is very traumatic and shatters beliefs about love, fidelity, truth, fairness, justice and dreams.
Rationalizing that the betrayed spouse must have done something to cause the infidelity, the belief in the fairness of just world, allow others to assign blame to the victim.We are often taught that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to those who make mistakes. The belief in a just world is crucially important for people to maintain their own well-being and to believe in their own invulnerability. This approach allows others to calm their own fears; by diminishing the perceived threat of infidelity to their own marriages and turning infidelity into something that can be controlled. Onlookers tell themselves the betrayed spouse must have done something to justify the unfaithful spouses infidelity. "That spouse must have done x,y or z, but I will not behave that way, so my spouse will never cheat". These societal views compound the trauma a betrayed spouse goes through. Not only has their spouse betrayed them, but they are slighted by a broad "blame the victim" attitude that exists. Outside sources invalidate the extreme emotional trauma to the betrayed as an overreaction, not that bad, incapable of being traumatic, and discredit the real emotional damage done to the betrayed spouse. These views result in an intense sense of humiliation for the betrayed spouse.
Many betrayed spouse feel humiliated when others find out about the betrayal, not because they perceive themselves as valueless, but because they internally disagree with the perception that they were of so little value that betrayal is justified under any circumstance. Compounding this humiliation is the unspoken code of secrecy. Admitting your spouse cheated is met with gasps and grimaces, implied as impolite and clumsy conversation. Friends and family encourage you to keep the infidelity to yourself because, "What would people say?" This reinforces the feeling that one should feel ashamed and embarrassed by a spouses actions, as a cold feeling of isolation washes over you. Humiliation is part of an inner response to being put down. Humiliation is also the perception of an external image change; reflecting a decrease in what others believe about your stature. A spouses infidelity is often interpreted by others as having been a reflection of your worth or value to your spouse and they look at you differently. A sense of pathetic pity for your inadequacy permeates others understanding of your current value. What did they do to "cause " their spouse to cheat.
In other words, societal understandings of infidelity are to interpret the betrayed as deserving of betrayal because of some act, character flaw, behavior (or lack there of), that made the wayward spouses actions understandable in committing adultery. This 'Just World' view also allows a betrayed spouse to begin blaming themselves for the infidelity. The self-blame calms their anxiety over their own vulnerability to victimization. The fact that our culture has turned "victim" into a dirty word, only compounds the unfairness and trauma of infidelity. The "don't be a victim" movement that has swept through our nation has turned being a "victim" into something shameful. Not having control over what happens to you, has been summarized by society as willfully allowing it to happen, because you did nothing to prevent it.
Discovering infidelity creates a fear of the unknown.Fear is defined as: A distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined. Betrayed spouses minds are often overcome with fear after a disclosure of infidelity. Fears include; hurting children through divorce, contracting a sexually transmitted disease, loss of health, loss of the marriage, loss of finances or lifestyle; including homes, friends, family members, retirement savings and a host of other components of their lives.
It's often the unknown that is most distressing. Betrayed spouses aren't exactly sure what they are dealing with, because often, wayward spouses are not forthcoming with information; disadvantaging the betrayed spouse from making assessments regarding their own well being based upon full and truthful information. It feels overwhelming to make an assessment about where you stand (or what you stand to loose) when your spouse gives little information and you are left to make assessments and draw conclusions based upon playing a game of "connect the dots" from the bits and pieces of information available. Betrayed spouses perceive the foundations of their lives under threat, and are overcome with immense fear.
- making the wrong decision
- not having a choice
- loss (relationships, finances, homes, retirements, love, self-respect, etc.)
Fear comes from the loss of safety; As a consequence of having their reality denied or withheld, a betrayed spouses inability to identify a truthful reality adequately, causes a deep sense of confusion and impending danger. The betrayed spouse is often only supplied with information the betrayer wants to relinquish, leaving the betrayed spouse staring into a dark chasm of the unknown and ensuing chaos. An adequate grasp on reality is essential for psychological health and stability, and after months or sometimes years of having ones reality denied, betrayed spouse are left with the overwhelming impression of defenselessness to direct the outcomes of their lives. If they believed in the fairness of a just world; doing the right things, in hopes of managing positive outcomes in their lives; being rocked by the realization of what little control they actually have, causes a crisis of fear. Safety is generated from the belief that reliable basic dependency (not to be confused with unhealthy dependency), is available to us as humans. This safety barrier in the marriage, and the internalized model of the belief in ones own safety, is shattered after the discovery of infidelity. The majority of people enter into marriage believing that it is designed to prevent injury or damage, and to provide safety from harm.
Relational safety includes shared visions of the relationship
In his work on Relational Perspectives, William Wilmot describes the process of relational narratives. These are the stories we tell to describe the perspectives that are held about a particular relationship. They are the words we use to make sense of, and create metaphors that symbolize the nature and quality of the relationship. These are the ways in which we understand our relational lives, identifying and determining the themes we use to attribute meanings to the relationship. One of the most confusing and frightening aspects of infidelity is learning that the narratives you believed you and your spouse co-created, were rewritten without your input or knowledge. If you believed you and your spouse shared the same relational narratives, suddenly finding out there was not actually an agreed upon definition, it brings conflict, discord, and threat to the safety and "we-ness" of the relationship. "In pathological relationships we see…a constant sabotaging or refusing of the other's attempts to define the relationship." If upon your suspicion that something was amiss in your relationship, you began checking in with your spouse to confirm your narratives were in alignment, being reassured that, in fact they were, this is especially devastating upon the revelation of the truth. Even more confusing is the spouse that responds to these initial inquiries with accusations that you are insecure, overbearing, needy or jealous. In the aftermath of infidelity, there is this sense of impending doom because you believed in the "we-ness" of the relationship, only to find out that the narrative was an illusion.
It seems there is never any resolution on the betrayed spouses end to the constant lying by omission.Your partner seems fine with that, but you are left with this sneaking suspicion that asking the right question is your only means to get the truth, shifting the responsibility of truth to you. Lies of omission make you feel as though it is your fault for not asking the specific question that would get you the truth. Invalidation goes beyond mere rejection, by implying not only that our feelings are disapproved of, but that we are fundamentally abnormal.
When the explanations just don't add up, and pressure is applied to the wayward spouse, their intent to to be less than honest, becomes a side-effect of either, a defect in you, your inability to handle the truth, or, a display of your spouses concern for your feelings.Often, whichever angle is chosen, is dependent upon the betrayed spouses emotional approach to the situation. If you approach them with indignation at being deceived, their omissions become a reaction to your inability to handle the truth, or their uncomfortableness with your inappropriate reactions:
- If you didn't get your feelings hurt so easily, I wouldn't have to withhold the truth.
- If you weren't so controlling I'd feel comfortable being honest.
- I can't handle your anger when I'm doing something you don't like, so I lied because you're so angry.
These approaches of course express indirectly that the defect is in you and your inability to handle the truth, not in their inability to be honest, conveniently shifting the blame for their behavior onto the betrayed spouse.
Or, if approached with immense hurt, the omissions become a result of their love for you.
- I knew it would upset you, so I lied to spare your feelings.
- I didn't want you to worry, so I thought it best you didn't know.
- I thought you'd be sad, and I can't stand to see you like that! I thought I was protecting you.
These approaches suggest lying is a necessity and in your best interest. Excusing the lying as done out of love.
Truthfulness requires partners tell the truth, and leave nothing concealed, especially not omitting facts and giving false impressions, cloaking deception to make it appear authentic. Honesty isn't subject to only specific questioning, but also applies to information partners voluntarily provide, including information your spouse would want to know, not just information one spouse deems they need to know. Relationships are built on trust, and keeping something from your partner destroys trust. Betrayed spouses understand this, yet can't seem to understand why they are always getting information in bits and pieces. Often, those pieces are only forthcoming once pressure is applied.
Betrayed Spouses begin to think, "Maybe my spouse really didn't think the things they omitted were very important. If they thought it was important, they would have made a point to tell me, right? You begin to wonder how you can argue with someone else's perception. If they say, "I didn't think it was important enough to mention", how can I argue with that? I can't go back and make them think it was important." It seems that in romantic relationships, whether or not people consider their partner’s point of view might depend both on how selfish they are and whether or not they feel powerful.
Rarely do spouses look at these interactions and break them down into smaller parts. All they know is the interaction has them feeling as though they are the problem, and their feelings are an overreaction to benign event. Yet, their gut tells them the event wasn't as innocent as portrayed, it feels like intentional deception, but they accept the explanation given, because there is no tangible information to prove otherwise. They want their point of view respected, so naturally they will respect their partners point of view. When these types of interactions become frequent and common, the betrayed spouse becomes accustomed to believing that their perceptions are off, and feel guilty for assuming their spouse is trying to be manipulative. They look to the spouse to help them understand what is really going on, but are served the same blueprint of the betrayer's interpretation. They accept the reality served up as truth, yet have this nagging doubt in the back of their minds. Spouses begin to wonder if they are crazy because their inability to clarify the interaction convinces them the problem lies with them. As they try to pinpoint the uneasy feeling, verbal explanations of the event seem confusing and impossible to unravel. That's because there were several things going on during the interaction with someone who is employing methods used in gas-lighting, that would confuse anyone.
- Giving false impressions: withholding the whole truth (lies of omission) and using half truths to twist or misdirect facts, setting the stage for deception. Presenting partial information intended to cloak the entire truth by giving the impression of honesty, without revealing the entire picture, and knowingly giving the receiver a misrepresentation to rely upon. Protecting hidden agendas behind false impressions, thus denying the receiver a complete picture of the circumstances. For Example: Your spouse comes home and you notice they have a bandage on their arm. When you ask what happened they say, "Oh, I gave blood today." You say, "Oh, how nice." What they didn't mention is, the blood given was for STD testing. They used a half truth and an omission, giving you a misrepresentation to rely upon; thereby cloaking a deception making it appear authentic and generous.
- Lies of omission: withholding the entire truth as a means of placing the responsibility of truth onto the other person. Lies of omission allow the perpetrator plausible deniability, because the receiver has no way of proving the withholding of information was an intentional act of deception. Using invalidation to back-up the omission so that one questions their own perspectives.
- Invalidation: implies that ones feelings aren't valid and/or an overreaction, because ones perspectives or desires are fundamentally flawed (may be presented as a caring gesture or concern for ones mental health). This leads to shifting the blame, so that the perpetrator can have (from their perspective) a legitimate issue to pin the fault on (i.e. justification: "It's not my behavior, it's your flawed perspective").
- Shifting of blame (undertone of self-righteous victim): usually includes some aspect of an insult and invalidation to make someone else's actions a side-effect of some fault of your own, or justified because of some weakness in you. How behavior is viewed, is colored by what it is compared against. By exploiting the contrast, a perpetrators inappropriate and hurtful acts can be made righteous. This allows them to minimize the significance of the hurtful act.
- Minimization: downplaying the significance of an event or emotion as irrelevant to oneself or others when there is no validity for complete denial.
- Denying: refusal to recognize or admit to a truth by rejecting the existence of a reality.
- Stonewalling: A refusal to: acknowledge the existence of, or take seriously a partners concerns, negotiate a conflict in good faith, discuss motives honestly, listen to another's point of view, collaborate or compromise - denying them compassionate emotional responsiveness.
- Fake Cooperation: Giving the outward appearance/indication of agreement, to a mutually acknowledged arrangement; a false compromise with the deliberate intent to neglect the declaration, knowing the agreement is false and will be left out of reflective consideration. “Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever you were going to do anyway.”
- Scapegoating (undertone of innocence): a tactic often employed to a person or group, intended to make them bear the blame for immoral or unethical conduct, or to suffer in their place. For Example: You have an agreement with your partner that adult establishments are a violation of marital boundaries. When you find out your partner violated that boundary, your partner insists it was the pressure of his/her coworkers/ friends and they forced them to go, even though they did not want to. "I didn't want to go, but I had to go. They said I would be missing out on important information about the account we are working on. I had no choice!"
- Insulting: speaking to another with contempt or rudeness with the intent to demean or offend.
- Plausible Deniability: refers to circumstances where a denial of responsibility, or knowledge of wrongdoing cannot be proved as true, or untrue, due to a lack of evidence proving the allegation. It also refers to any act that leaves little or no evidence of wrongdoing or abuse. Often used as a way to maintain personal well fair by using social impressions to defend personal character.
- Deceptive Caring Gestures: (As a pattern of repeated behavior) Often includes false impression and/or lies of omission to make it appear a caring gesture is intended to demonstrate care and love. The perpetrator will engage in a nice act if and/or when the act is able to conceal a deception and/or cover their tracks. For example: 1) Your spouse left the office for happy hour at 2 o'clock. Instead of revealing the truth when they realize they will be expected home soon, they employ a deceptive caring gesture. In an attempt to cover their tracks, (for what ever reason) they will call to say that they stopped to bring home dinner from said establishment. This allows them legitimate reason for their lateness (they had to wait for the food to be made) and alcohol consumption (I had a drink while I was waiting), instead of revealing the truth through honesty. 2) Your spouse purchases jewelry or other gifts for you as an unexpected surprise. The hidden agenda behind the gift - hoping you will overlook the credit card charge on the bill, because at the same time, they were also purchasing items for their affair partner.
- Impression Management: To some degree we all try to present our best face to the world, but when impression are used to hide covert behavior, giving the receiver a misrepresentation to rely upon, that is when it becomes manipulation. "If the manipulator also happens to be skilled in the art of “impression management” — displaying superficial charm and enjoying the capacity to make favorable impressions on others — those on the receiving end of their tactics are likely to feel even crazier. They might say to themselves: “I’ve always thought there was something wrong with them but perhaps there really is something wrong with me. After all, everyone else seems to like them.”
You are not responsible for these behaviors! You did not cause them, you cannot control them and you cannot fix them! Your only responsibility is to not participate in them, to the extent that is possible.
In cases of infidelity, most often gaslighting (a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity) is employed to keep the deception going.The culmination of persistent lies, denial, minimization, half truths, managing impressions, invalidation, and blame shifting; in attempts to deny someone the truth of their own reality, results in a form of psychological abuse known as gas lighting. The gaslighter uses with increasing frequency, systematic withholding of factual information from the spouse, and/or provides false information, using impressions of character to defensively invalidate or deny the legitimacy of an others feelings. Minimizing ones own behavior and shifting the blame for interpretations or impressions (which they painted) onto the person confronting their behavior. Insinuating the nature of ones awareness is faulty, and is intended to cause one to question their own perceptions.The gaslighter may insinuate that you have a mental illness, you’re overly sensitive and shouldn't feel what you feel, you should work on your self-esteem, as to not be bothered by their behavior (because clearly, according to them, it is your self-esteem, not their behavior), or see someone for that depression you must be suffering from.
This has the gradual effect of making the receiver anxious, confused, and less able to trust their memory. Questioning ones own perceptions, if done long enough, convinces you that you are loosing your mind. “Gaslighting plays into one of our worst fears – of being abandoned – and many of our deepest needs: to be understood, appreciated, and loved." - The Gaslight Effect .
Lying by omission is part of this crazy making process - it's lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception.Lying by omission, in the legal world, falls under Deceit Law, defined as; The intentional act of misleading a person of ordinary prudence by giving false impressions. If a person knowingly or recklessly misrepresent a fact to another, he is said to deceit the other. Someone who falsely represents a fact with the intention to make another person detrimentally rely, and act upon that information. The elements of deceit are:
- False representation of a fact.
- Representation made with the knowledge that it is false.
- Intention to make someone act, and/or make decisions upon the belief that the fact is true.
Deception may involve dissimulation, distraction, camouflage, concealment, propaganda, or sleight of hand.
If these have been long term interaction patterns in the relationship, the receiving spouse has been somewhat conditioned to except rational explanations and ignore their "gut instincts" for fear of appearing irrational, controlling, or crazy. By misleading a spouse with false impressions, the goal is to deceive the betrayed spouse into false assumptions about the context of the situation. Thereby giving the betrayed spouse a misrepresentation to rely on… effectively setting the stage for deceit. Unfortunately, in romantic relationships, as opposed to the legal world, these behaviors are described as the symptom of a relationship dysfunction, as opposed to being a dysfunction of the person perpetrating the behavior.
Your spouse calls to tell you they have a work meeting and will be home late. They explain, "Bob from the office has been trying to schedule a meeting with me for 2 weeks and we just can't put it off any longer. This is about an important account and we need to hash out the details. He is meeting me here after his last appointment today. I'll call you when I'm on my way home". You may ask some questions and your spouse serves up a perfectly valid explanation. You say, "Okay, I'll see you after work" and say your goodbyes, not thinking any more of it.
When your spouse arrives home you ask how the meeting went. Your spouse relays some technical facts about what was discussed and signifies that there this nothing exciting to relay. You offer your spouse dinner and they indicate they are not hungry and they just want to relax because this situation has them very stressed. Later you find a receipt that indicates your spouse was actually out at a bar during this so called meeting (not necessarily having an affair, but being deceptive none the less). The puzzle pieces start to fall into place, now I know why he/she wasn't hungry. Why didn't he/she just tell me they ate? What are they hiding? When you confront your spouse about being lied to, they say,
"Well you never asked me where the meeting was. It's not my fault that you assumed I would be having the meeting at the office! I said we were meeting up at the office. (You are confident your spouse painted the picture to imply that the meeting was taking place at the office). I didn't know that's what you thought (plausible deniability).How was I to know that's what you thought? You never asked me if I was having the meeting in the office!" (Lies of of omission put the burden of truth on you). "Why are you making such a big deal about something so trivial! (minimizing their behavior). This is nothing to get upset over (invalidating your feelings as irrational)! Why were you going through my pockets anyway! (Shifting the attention to your behavior).
Setting the stage for deceit with false impressions allows the cheater to turn your own assumptions against you
- This interaction pattern is not only about deceit, but power and control as well. Ironically your spouse has a way of turning this around on you, to make it seem as though you are the one with the control issue. When you try to explain relationships are about honesty, mutual respect and concern for how the other person feels, they begin to point out all the ways in which you exhibit none of these. You wonder if they are right? Are you the one who is really being controlling? The self doubt created by this type of repeated interaction leaves you disoriented and questioning your own behavior. You become trapped in a cycle of explaining and self-analysis, giving priority rights to your spouses opinion that something you've done caused their behavior. The key here is to recognize if you are the only one in the relationship questioning and analyzing how your behavior effects the other person.
If the above example is the typical pattern of interaction when you bring up issues that you see as a problem in the relationship, you are likely being gaslighted. Do not allow yourself to be guilted into emotional submission for fear that you are being irrational. If one person in a relationship feels there is a problem, demonstrating respect and concern for your feelings requires the other person to address your concerns.
Of course misunderstandings happen in relationships, but the healthy way to address a misunderstanding is to
- Understand the other persons point of view by means of perspective taking.
- Clarify the perspective of both parties by communicating with transparency; withholding information creates differences in the information available to two people and may disadvantage the other person, and is distinct from taking perspective based on cognitive differences in weighing the same information.
- Create mutual expectations for the future to avoid misunderstandings. An interdependent relationship requires acknowledgment of the both persons concerns and giving equal weight to both parties, then making adjustments because you have considered the other persons perspective.
Betrayed spouse begin to feel extremely confused with all the different messages being thrown at them through ill-advised councilors, friends, books, media, etc. They think, "Wait, I am to blame because I didn't see it coming? I should have known my spouse was unhappy? How could I see it coming when I was being deceived into believing everything was fine?" Betrayed spouses blame themselves for not knowing what their spouses were thinking or feeling, disregarding the fact that this information wasn't being shared, and it is not their job to be a mind reader. Betrayed spouses are caused to feel ashamed and/or foolish because they didn't detect the deception that was going on. If they did detect a shift in the relationship, addressing it, but being lied to, they are shamed for ignoring the warning signs, or accused of wanting to be in denial because they weren't emotionally ready to handle it.
Betrayed spouses feel very confused when purposeful deception, used to make them doubt their own intuitions (being told their feelings were illusionary) and having their trust in their spouses words used against them as weapons for partial blame, because they did nothing to prevent, prove or expose the infidelity. The suggestion being that they had some sort of control, contribution or exchange in the perpetuation of the affair; they somehow, in others views, allowed or participated in the deception, because they were unable to coax the truth from their spouse, ignored warning signs, or in some other way contributed to an environment that repressed subjection to the truth. Their trust in their partner's word is used in accusatory fashion, to imply that they weren't in tune with the relationship, their partner or themselves. After the infidelity is revealed, they are then told that the relationship can not survive without trust. With the mounting pressure for the relationships survival seemingly placed upon the shoulders of the betrayed spouse, they are asked to invest in the very thing that permitted the infidelity in the first place. The pressure for trust perpetuates anxiety, as the betrayed spouses berates themselves for lacking, or displaying some element of behavior that will stop the cheater from further infidelity. Betrayed spouses are left in a difficult situation for which there is no easy solution. They could have behaved or done things differently in a variety of ways; yet who is to say that any of those behaviors would have, or will stop the actions of the cheater in the future. The bottom line is, nothing you do or don't do can stop a cheater from cheating.
After infidelity, character-logical self-blame assaults the betrayed spouse, feeling as if there is something inwardly wrong with them.If the person who promised to love, honor and cherish them could betray them in such an unbearably painful way, they attribute this to some reprehensible character defect within themselves, and this cause shame for who they are, as they begin devaluing themselves for their own positive and negative character traits. This is often perpetuated by cheating spouses insistence that the infidelity was caused as a result of something about the betrayed - this attribution is usually ascribed to some imagined or exaggerated character, physical or behavioral imperfection in the betrayed spouse. Character-logical self-blame makes the future seem helpless, unchangeable and uncontrollable, because if the problem is about "who you are internally", there is little one can do. The betrayal shatters self-esteem by diminishing personal value and minimizing the status of the betrayed in the relationship. Spouses begin to believe that their actions will not make a difference, because the problem is an irreversible fault within themselves. They beat themselves up with statements such as
- "I'm too trusting, I can't believe I trusted my spouse to be honest. Im such an idiot! "
- "I'm so naive. I don't understand how I let myself be duped."
- "I'm so gullible. What a fool I've been. How did I let this happen?"
- "What kind of jerk would let their spouse treat them this way. I must be really pathetic."
- "If only I had know what was going on. I can't believe I didn't see this coming. I'm a real moron."
- "What is it about me that caused my spouse to cheat?"
This line of self-berating questioning makes the problem about a defect in you; your lack of some intrinsic quality that you should have possessed to avoid the betrayal. You ask yourself what it is you missed, what quality are you lacking that would have stopped your spouse from cheating. Betrayed spouses shame and belittle themselves for trusting, loving, hoping, and caring. The on-slot of self-blame undermining their self-esteem. Questioning their own sanity, grasp on what's normal and healthy, and feeling that they are lacking in some allusive character trait that they were not fortunate enough to have been blessed with.
The problem with trying to take responsibility for someone else's choices is, you perceive you had some control to stop it. If you had control to stop it, yet did nothing, you must be all the things you're telling yourself, "an idiot, naive, stupid, etc." Putting responsibility where it belongs is the first step in overcoming the immense pain of infidelity. Often betrayed spouses don't even realize they are belittling themselves.
In cases of infidelity, the amount of emotional pain is the betrayed's proof of how awful they must be perceived by their spouse. If the person whom you thought loved you, could willingly and deliberately cause you this much pain, they must then find everything about you intolerable…but the truth is, your spouse was not even thinking about causing you pain to prove their distain for you. They were thinking about only themselves. The betrayal causes you to second guess everything you thought you knew about yourself, your relationship and your spouse. Could my spouse be right? Am I that awful that they felt they had no other options? Character logical self-blame is associated with higher levels of depression and self-esteem loss. Intense self-blame reduces the ability to cope, adapt to the trauma, and increases the risk of suicidal behavior. When the powerlessness becomes unbearable, to gain a sense of control over the helplessness, the betrayed spouse moves into behavioral self-blame.
- "I'm not an idiot for trusting my spouse. I have no control over whether they choose to be truthful. All I can do is trust myself to listen to my intuition. If my spouse chooses to lie, that is a reflection of them, not of me."
- "I won't beat myself up anymore. I did not "let" this happen. If I had a choice in the matter, it wouldn't have happened."
- "If my spouse does not appreciate me for my strengths and weaknesses, I guess they really don't deserve to be with me. I am not perfect, and I am okay with that."
- "My spouses infidelity is not a reflection of my inadequacy, but a reflection of theirs."
- "I did feel something was not right. Not knowing what that something was, does not make me a moron. It means that I am "not" crazy or delusional, my intuition was right on. I was completely in touch with my spouse. They were the one hiding and deceiving, and that I have no control over."
For the majority of betrayed spouses, this shift takes about 1 to 2 years if they are putting in the hard work of healing.
Behavioral self-blame makes betrayed spouses feel as if they should have done something differently to avoid the betrayal.Trauma survivors have the tendency to believe that they brought the trauma upon themselves. Behavioral self-blame reduces the perception of vulnerability. The belief that a change in behavior will reduce the likelihood of reoccurring victimization, is in some situations, seen as an adaptive coping method. Behavioral self-blame also promotes the belief in the ability to control, change and avoid negative outcomes. Believing that the future can be different, promotes feelings of control and motivation, subduing the helplessness felt. Thoughts are invested in strategies spouses can apply in the future and/or similar circumstances. These strategies can help avoid the feeling of being naive or blindsided, but gives the spouse a false sense of influence over their ability to control the outcome. When you adjust your behavior, with the intent of that change having the influence of management over someone else's behavior, you are setting yourself up for failure. We do not have the ability to manage, control or change someone else's behavior.
We all want to believe nothing bad will happen to us if we do the right thing, make the right choices, stay hyper-alert to avert any conditions that would strip us from the control we have over our lives. In this mindset, if something bad happens, it's because we did something wrong in avoiding it.
Behavioral self-blame can also raise anger and hate towards the self. Anger rises due to the thought that one could have done something to prevent the infidelity, and yet did nothing. Behavioral self-blame is perpetuated by theories that a betrayed spouse is partially responsible for an affair. The deficit model of affairs is the presumption that there were fatal problems in the relationship, and therefore half of the fault belongs to the victimized spouse. Of course there were flaws in the relationship! When one spouse thinks that an affair is a means of getting their needs, wants and/or desires met, and they are unwilling to disclose those needs, expecting their spouse "should be" a mind reader, there are definitely flaws in the relationship. The betrayed spouse does not own half the fault for something they had no knowledge of, and were powerless to direct it's outcome. Betrayed spouses minds flood with thoughts of "IF ONLY", "I SHOULD HAVE", "WHY DIDN'T I". They think that if they could have stopped it before, then changing their behavior now can stop it from ever happening again in the future.
The guilt and anger generated toward the self keeps the mind looping in an endless search for the defect, behavior or circumstances that they can control. If you insist there was nothing you did to cause your spouses infidelity, betrayed spouses are accused of not taking responsibility for the role they played in being victimized, thus they are playing the victim. This essentially perpetuates the behavioral self-blame so often seen in victims as the result of trauma. Behavioral self-blame is control related, and involves attributions to a modifiable source (one's own behavior). It is associated with a belief of future avoid-ability. The belief that they can control the outcome of their spouses behavior, by modifying their own, leads the victim of infidelity to hyper-vigilance - "If my lack of vigilance was the problem, I can prevent a future tragedy by watching more closely."
Hyper-vigilance is one of the hyper arousal symptoms of PTSD and refers to the experience of being constantly tense and "on guard."(http://ptsd.about.com/od/glossary/g/hypervigilance.htm). A spouse experiencing this symptom of PTSD will be motivated to maintain an increased awareness of their surrounding and especially the surroundings of the wayward spouse. This may including a spouses activities on cell phones, computers, car milage, social networking and environment. They are frequently scanning the environment to identify potential sources of threat - people resembling the affair partner, spouses arriving home late, phone calls from unknown persons, spouses being secretive or aloof, etc. Betrayed spouses believe that had they been aware of these things before, they could have stopped the infidelity from occurring, in so believing this, they make attempts to intercept any warning signs of impending infidelity. The victimized spouse believes that impeding any progression of the cheaters previous behaviors will stop a repeat offense. While the victimized spouse is in the PTSD cycle, these behaviors seem like a logical response to the thought that if they caused it, they can fix it. It's not until a victimized spouse realizes that it's nothing they did or didn't do that caused the infidelity, that they can begin to see their policing behavior as a side effect of the self-blame cycle. Wanting to protect yourself from being deceived is a normal emotional response, but when the hyper vigilance reaches a point where you are paralyzed from living your own life, that's when it becomes problematic. In general, a nagging feeling that something is amiss is usually a sign that it is. In the early stages after an affair you can expect that you will feel this most of the time. The goal is to learn to decipher anxiety over what might happen from your gut instinct that something IS amiss. Start this process by identifying your triggers, things that exposure to bring up an immediate feeling of panic. For those stuck in the betrayed spouse cycle, letting go of hyper-vigilance seems like an act of stupidity, naivety, and just plain being dumb. If your spouse continues to deceive, lie and hide the truth, it is very easy to be sucked into or remain stuck in hyper-vigilant behavior. The way to break this cycle is through your own healing and accepting that you have no control over your spouses choices. Please don't misunderstand and interpret this to mean; you do not have a right to check-up on your spouse. The best method for dealing with feelings of anxiety is to communicate them directly. How your spouse responds to this honest communication is indicative of their level of transparency and accountability. If you ask for access to phone records or emails and you are met with excuses, circular conversations and inconsistencies your spouse is not invested in proving themselves trustworthy - after they have already proven themselves to be a liar. This behavior contributes to your "gut instinct" that something is amiss, yet the cheater swears everything is as it should be. You are left with the sneaking suspicion that your only means to the truth is by validating through evidence, that your gut instinct is correct. Often wayward spouses proclaim their right to privacy as a defense against opening their lives up to a betrayed spouse. Of course privacy is their right, but it does not trump your rights to honesty and truthfulness. If your spouses right to privacy is replacing your original agreement of commitment, where relational honesty was implied implicitly, or stated explicitly, your spouse is rewriting the terms of your agreement… this is a red flag.
In any other facet of life, people whom have established their behavior as suspect, or want to provide examples of competence are asked to provide proof of change or competence. Those whom have acted in ways that are inconsistent with what may be required of them, are asked to regain their standing in the eyes of whomever they have evoked suspicion with, and/or are required to prove themselves . Employers put employees on probationary periods, bad drivers are given supervision periods, clinical professionals are required to submit to years of supervision. Yet we have somehow convinced ourselves that romantic relationships should be exempt of these measures because no one has a right to regulate or dictate the personal freedom of morality; a private matter outside the scope of regulation. We can not dictate anothers' morality, but we can request that they provide proof that is consistent with who they are telling us they are. Yes, people make bad choices, but when they do they need to provide evidence that they have learned from their error. For betrayed spouse who want to save the relationship, non-specific definitions of trust put constraining pressure on them to hand over something that is given without any degree of reason, and is hopelessly unsuitable to the situation at hand; leaving little room for counter arguments because trust is presented as something you alone are responsible for giving, or not giving. See How Does A Betrayed Spouse Heal for further explanation.
Infidelity Triggers - reminders or awareness of a past event or patterns, that occurred during the affair deception,can unexpectedly assault the betrayed, and be quite diverse. Similar to classical conditioning of Pavlov's Dog in which a conditioned stimulus (trigger), comes to signal the occurrence of a second stimulus (pain, horror, rage, etc.) the unconditioned stimulus (biologically significant stimulus such pain, that elicits a response from the start). Classical conditioning is a learning process that occurs through associations between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus. Triggers (the stimulus) may appear in the form of individual people, places, noises, images, smells, tastes, emotions, films, dates of the year, tones of voice, bodily sensations, weather conditions, time factors, or combinations thereof. The betrayed spouses mind has associated a stimulus (such as above) with the horrific event of infidelity. Once triggered, the betrayed spouse is involuntarily flooded with the immense pain, horror, helplessness, anger, rage, etc, as the now conditioned stimulus has triggered the emotional response. These emotional triggers perpetuate the cycle of hyper-vigilance, as the betrayed struggles to gain control over another instance of infidelity and avert the helplessness felt. Emotional triggers are also a symptom of PTSD.
When a betraying spouse is not willing to make their lives an open book to the betrayed, claiming that they want to save the marriage, yet continues behaving in a self serving manner, hyper-vigilance escalates. The constant need of the betrayed to protect themselves from being deceived again, leads to days consumed with attempting to find evidence that they are, if fact, being told the truth. Their lives begin to revolve around policing the activities of the betraying spouse. Their whole sense of safety in the relationship has been shattered, and the continued unwillingness of the cheater to be accountable to their spouse is crazy making. The behavior and verbal claims of the cheater are inconsistent, often serving up lies to appease the anxiety of the betrayed spouse and maintain control over their illusion of intentions. When the anxiety and hyper vigilance of the betrayed spouse reaches a tipping point, demanding answers - often, blame is once again thrust upon the faithful spouse when confronting the betrayer about their lack of accountability. They are accused of being too controlling, crazy, untrusting and then guilted into backing off the pressure, shamed into forgoing accountability because they are the ones driving the cheater crazy. The inability of the betrayed spouse to control the behavior of the betrayer throws them back into feeling helpless, returning to character logical self-blame, and the PTSD cycle continues, looping over and over again. The betrayed begins to doubt their own sanity because their intuition does not match up with the illusion they are being fed. Not "always", but most often, refusal of accountability is a sign that the affair has not ended, and the betrayed continues to be gaslighted. This cycle of infidelity abuse follows closely the domestic abuse cycle. Compounding the confusion of the betrayed are messages that to save the marriage one must let go and choose to trust again. As the patterns of deception from before disclosure haunt the betrayed, they have a hard time articulating the crazy making behavior. Things that were framed as being benign misunderstandings are now seen as malicious attempts at deception.
The betrayed spouse is left with a constant sense of confusion.
"Wait a minute, your telling me, I'm partially to blame because I didn't see this coming, I'm not the innocent victim here! I was doing ,or not doing something that caused my spouse to cheat. When I then become hyper vigilant to avoid being deceived again (because I perceive I have some control to stop it), I'm then told I can't control another persons behavior and I must open myself up to risking being hurt and deceived again. Are you crazy, you want me to be a doormat! You really don't understand! My spouse just wants to deceive me! All my spouses lies were intended to pull the wool over my eyes! There is NO WAY I'm letting that happen again!"
The disgust of society toward being victimized, has instilled in our psyches, that only those who are weak, irresponsible, or themselves "blamers", would take no responsibility in being a victim, thus it is our failure to predict the outcome of someone else's choice that has left us powerless and without control.Asking a victim to take responsibility in their role of victimization, is essentially telling them that they are responsible or partially to blame over something which they had no control. Self-blame is exhausting because there is nothing faulty in you that CAUSED your partners infidelity. If you are endlessly searching for that fault, you will never find what your are looking for.
Many betrayed spouses are consumed with getting confirmation from the world around them, that they, in fact did not deserve to be cheated on. There will always be people who think there is justification for infidelity, but it does not matter what others think, what matters is what you think. Understanding and accepting you were a victim releases you from the control you never had, and allows you to stop the perpetual self-blame that accompanies the trauma of infidelity. It allows you to see that though you were a victim, you don't have to perpetually be one. Giving up the illusion that your behavior or lack of behavior can control whether your spouse cheats or not, frees you to focus on how you are willing to be treated by them, from this point on. This very act is what turns you from victim to survivor.
Responsibility for ones own behavior is not something that can be displaced onto others, because responsibility is about ones own responses. Every person has a choice about how they will respond to a given situation, condemning a betrayed spouse for their partners cheating is about making them bear the displaced responsibility for someone else's actions. Cognitive theory adopts the stance that self-regulation of morality is not entirely an intra-psychic matter because people do not operate as autonomous moral agents; rather they take an interactionist perspective to morality. Touting moral actions as the product of the reciprocal interplay of cognitive, affective and social influences. Of course we influence and are influenced by the people around us, but ultimately, how we respond to a situation is entirely under personal control (presuming your free will is still in tack). Controlling our own actions is not dependent upon the actions of others.
Being an unknowing victim is not shameful, naive, or an indication that you are lacking in judgement. However being willing to share the blame for an event, in which, you had no knowledge of, and were powerless to make your own choices as to it's outcome, will keep you in a state of constant suffering. When you free yourselves from being responsible for a romantic partners choices, you also empower them to change and take responsibility for how they are behaving. This is a very scary feeling of powerlessness, because no one is able to "make" someone treat them in a loving and respectful manner. How a spouse choose to respond to their freedom of choice is completely their responsibility. Betrayed spouses fear if they let go, and allow their partners to take responsibility for their own choices, they may find out that they don't really love them, or only want the relationship if it's on their own terms; accepting that this fear may be true is the hardest part.
Part of taking responsibility for ones part in the relationship is changing dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs, in which a variety of misconceptions have been developed that hold one back from seeking relationship equality.
- If I try harder or do more they will love me and stop hurting me.
- Believing that the success of the relationship is yours to shoulder, and totally up to you.
- Thinking your spouses love is something you can earn by being who they want you to be.
- Believing that they are entitled to boundaries to maintain their freedoms, disregarding your boundaries and need for safety.
- My spouses needs are valid, because they cheated, my needs are invalid because I'm too needy.
In dysfunctional relationships there is an imbalance in the way that each person is considered. A betrayed spouses hyper vigilance is an attempt to gain equality. They feel if they can make their spouse conscious of a specific behavior and/or relationship violation, their spouse will come to understand the nature of the hurtful behavior and take steps to correct it. In dysfunctional relationships, the wayward spouses response to this evidence (evidence usually gained by policing the cheater), is often one of denial, justification, minimization and defensiveness. Often the intended outcome of the hyper-vigilance backfires because of the intense desire to save the relationship. When the cheater does not respond with empathy and caring, but instead accuses the betrayed of having issues with control, overreactions, emotional instability, etc., the overwhelming desire to save the relationship causes the betrayed spouse to get these perceived "issues" under control. They forgo their own needs in the relationship to please the spouse.
Needing a accurate view of their own reality, betrayed spouses escalate the hyper-vigilant activity to confirm that, they indeed, have a grasp on the quality of their relationship. By having their dissatisfaction repeatedly denied, invalidated as irrational and minimized, they begin to camouflage policing to maintain insight into the activities of their spouse and prepare themselves in case there are signs of impeding danger. Hoping this activity will somehow lessen the pain of any further betrayal. Wanting a view into the reality of their marriage, they try to hide their hyper-vigilance, because they perceive that if they can be who their spouse wants them to be (a non-intrusive, undemanding agreeable spouse), their spouse will return their love. Bending themselves into pretzels to accommodate the cheaters wishes, and burring their own needs in order to preserve the relationship.
In equitable relationships, based on equal value, everyones needs are given the same priority of importance, and matter equally. There is give-and-take, and no one person is always making concession and sacrificing their needs in order to accommodate the other partners desires. Specifically, the onslaught of self-blame only stops once you realize that your own feelings of disappointment are legitimate enough to be heard and responded to with behaviors and not just words. When you tell someone you feel hurt or upset by their behavior—and exactly what behaviors they can employ to help you feel better and provide a sense of safety—you truly learn whether or not they care enough to change what's hurting you. If your need for safety, reassurance and accountability in your relationship is being disregarded in the name of your spouses solo autonomy, there is an imbalance of power. The power struggle will only stop once you are willing to give up control over whether the relationship survives or not. Often betrayed spouses feel an immense responsibility to protect their children, friends and families from the pain of divorce, and feel they must hold the relationship together at all costs to protect the interests of everyone else. This is not the betrayed spouses responsibility alone, and once you release yourself from this faulty belief, you will find out if your partner is willing to have a balanced relationship. When a spouse withdraws their love, it is immensely painful and personal. It can make you feel as if the defect is in you, because you didn't measure up to a desired standard, one in which, you likely were not included in being told about. It is impossible to have a relationship with someone who will not honestly and respectfully communicate their thoughts and feelings. Relationships by their very definition are a connection and involvement between two people. Relationships are built on reciprocity; the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. If your spouse is unwilling to participate in your connection, by being involved and exchanging thoughts, feelings, ideas, hopes, fears, and giving you a picture of their inner world, you are not involved in a relationship. If your spouse is holding up a do-not-enter sign to their heart, the only way it will become a two way street is if they choose to participate. Your spouse is responsible for this decision, as it is completely theirs. No amount of coercion, begging, pleading, talking, policing or loving your spouse can make them choose to be a part of your relationship. Many times it is the spouse who is more invested in the marriage that ends up being the one betrayed. Feeling completely confused by "expert" advise, betrayed spouses take to heart suggestions that trying harder can help improve the marriage. When only one person in the relationship is trying, it does not really matter how much effort is being put in, because the giving only runs one way.
Being responsible for something means that we have control over that event; in charge of, in control of, controlling, managing, leading, Being the primary cause of something, and so able to be blamed or credited for it.Given the above definition, you can not be held responsible for your spouse choice to cheat. As a betrayed spouse you were being deceived into believing your relationship was something that it wasn't. Your spouse was in control of this illusion. You were led to believe the relationship was not in danger, by use of manipulation and lying. Your spouse's series of choices caused the infidelity, and managing the illusion was the primary objective in continuing the affair.
Taking responsibility is about what you do now, not about blaming yourself for being victimized . The truth is you cannot take responsibility for your spouses actions, because responsibility is about the person implementing the action. Your spouse made a choice to cheat and you have no responsibility for that choice. This isn't to say that you were a perfect spouse and you never made any mistakes in the relationship. Yet, you participated in the same marriage and your choice was to remain faithful.
Illusory correlation is the phenomenon of seeing a relationship between variables (typically people, events, or behaviors) even when no such relationship exists. Stereotypes can lead people to expect certain groups and traits to fit together, and then to overestimate the frequency with which these correlations actually occur. A person who is cheating is in a relationship (otherwise it wouldn't be cheating), so people conclude that the cheating must be a symptom of the relationship. In other words, the misconception about infidelity is that it is causation based: meaning two events that occur together are taken to have a cause-and-effect relationship, thus the cheaters infidelity is caused by the circumstances outside themselves . This view is nothing more than the dodging of responsibility for personal choices, in attempts at trying to explain away hurtful behavior as being caused by something outside of the self. When in actuality the cause was something inside of themselves, whether it be unhappiness, ego, hurts, entitlement, anger, lust, etc. Trying to attribute personal actions to outside sources as the causation is nothing more than blame. Every person chooses how they respond to any given situation. Those that excuse their actions because of the way they feel, are really just avoiding responsibility for their own actions. This doesn't mean that whatever your spouse was feeling is invalid, or that you didn't add to those feelings. It does however, mean that you can not be held responsible for how someone chooses to respond to their own feelings - you are not responsible for someone else's choices. Thus when it comes to personal choices, contribution does not mean causation.
For example: If I cut someone off in traffic, I may contribute to that persons anger, but what they choose to do with it is completely their responsibility. If they choose to engage in road rage and run me off the road, I still did not cause that behavior. They chose to respond to their anger in a destructive and unhelpful way. The problem with emotions is that they are often our bodies natural and automatic response, and they prepare us for action, so one may conclude that someone else caused us to take the action we did. Knowing you can not cause someone else's actions does not give one license to go around cutting people off in traffic, or doing other purposefully inconsiderate things. Only you can hold yourself accountable for your own actions.
There is no better example of this than being a betrayed spouse. You are filled with immense hurt and anger, yet you know whatever actions you take are your own, and you can not dump that responsibility on anyone else. Yes, your spouses actions contributed to your feelings, but only you are responsible for what actions you take based on those feelings. Shortly after the initial discovery period of a spouses affair, during the phase of humiliation, many betrayed spouses are tempted to have a revenge affair, yet the majority of them do not. Though revenge is a natural primitive response to an injustice, it is a dysfunctional attempt to transform the humiliation and loss felt; a rash effort to regaining ones dignity and value that you feel you have been stripped of. Those who do participate in retaliatory affairs further confuse their understanding that spouses cannot cause an affair. This complicates the process of healing, because if their spouses affair "made" them do the same thing, they are left with the task of resolving the hypocrisy through their own justification. Essentially engaging in a revenge affair qualifies their partners justifications for having an affair valid, because they have verified that the way someone else makes you feel is valid excuse for hurtful behavior.
Taking responsibility means for yourself, not for the affair. Taking responsibility is about what you do now, not about blaming yourself for being victimized. One error in thinking is - to take responsibility for ones contribution, you must blame yourself for past actions, making you the cause of the victimization. In essence implying that your spouse was justified in committing infidelity, because you were imperfect. When one can look back on their own imperfections in the marriage without labeling themselves, "good, bad, stupid, superior, etc." and see yourself as imperfect; accepting that imperfection without judgement, that is when you stop being the victim. Taking responsibility means you have control over what YOU do NOW. Taking responsibility means making choices for "yourself", not for your "spouse". You can't force your spouse to treat you well, but you can stop taking the bad treatment. If you've put all the responsibility for the success or failure of the relationship on your shoulders, and want to save marriage, this is the very hardest part, because you can't force someone to change. You want your spouses to love you and treat you with respect, but what do you do if they won't? You stop trying to change their behavior and change your own. Before you can do this, its necessary to reach a point where you are truly willing to let go of the relationship, with the belief that your needs ARE valid and you deserve the respect of feeling safe within the relationship. Letting go of trying to control someone else's love and behavior is excruciatingly painful. It is giving them the freedom to reject you if they choose. Some betrayed spouses interpret this to mean, you allow a spouse to treat you any way they want, but that is not what it means. It means, you allow them the freedom of that choice, but YOU CHOOSE if you will stand for that treatment.
The self-blame cycle (described above) keeps you immobile, because you think you alone created the situation, yet aren't sure how, so you keep looking back to try and figure it out. Believing that you will find an answer that will bring clarity to such a confusing and traumatic experience. Hoping this newfound clarity will allow you control over another instance of infidelity, providing you with a sense of safety once again. Because betrayed spouses put the relationship first on the priority list, they are hesitant to advocate for their own emotional well being and safety, for fear of driving the spouse away. When you keep focusing on where you went wrong, you fail to see what is happening in the present. Of course the need to understand the affair is a very important part of your healing, but looking back and blaming yourself will only keep you stuck. Until you have completely removed any doubt in the back of your head that says, "Maybe I am the cause of my spouses infidelity", and hoping that if you scold yourself enough, maybe it won't happen again; you will not be able to move forward in your own healing.
The behaviors that go along with infidelity, are hallmarks of emotional abuse. Psychological invalidation, gas-lighting, blame-shifting, just to name a few.What is amazing about most of the research, books and articles about infidelity is, these behaviors that have been normalized into terms like, "the affair fog" exclude the fact that these behaviors are common abuse tactics. "Experts" dodge the issue of these abusive behaviors, calling them "common" and "par for the course". Encouraging betrayed spouses to either take partial responsibility for this behavior in the marriage, or be empathetic to the internal pain of the cheater, all in the name of love and marriage preservation. In either case, failing to point out the obvious ... this behavior is abusive.
It is important that this abusive behavior is pointed out as such, because one cannot see that which is not acknowledged. In the aftermath of an infidelity disclosure, these behaviors are intensified and are not always a temporary side effect of an affair, but an ingrained pattern of behaviors. For a spouse whom has been gaslighted for years, these behavior patterns are seen as a normal part of a relationship, failing to recognize the dysfunctional attitudes that have developed in the marriage; assuming their basic rights and needs in the marriage are irrational because of the constant second guessing that has developed through the lifetime of the marriage. The natural response to blame shifting is to defend ones self from the on slot of accusations, but after years of exposure to manipulation tactics and bypassing the real issues, spouses become concerned that they do not have a handle on what is normal in a relationship. They are constantly second guessing themselves and have become distrustful of striving for respect and transparency because somehow they are seen as at fault for any unhappiness in the marriage. What little confidence a betrayed spouse may still have in their perceptions is completely shattered after the trauma of the infidelity. Betrayed spouses start down the road of self blame, because it gives the illusion that they have control over the future outcome of the marriage and/or future infidelity. If they did something to cause it, they can do something to stop it!
To minimize the impact of what they have done, and bypass accountability, betraying spouses try to convince the betrayed spouse that their perceptions are off, and the reality of the problem is actually the betrayed spouse feelings, intuitions and behaviors, often accusing them of being the one whom is being abusive. Betrayed spouses second guess themselves to the point that they question whether they are the ones causing the problems, being drawn into self-improvement campaigns in hopes of restoring the relationship, feeling horrified that they may be the abuser. It is not uncommon for victims to think they might be the abuser and they begin to blame themselves. Wayward spouses use their own justifications, as a measure by which to disqualify their spouses feelings of hurt as unreasonable, illogical, crazy and not at all within the boundaries of societal norms or what is reasonable to feel, given the situation, and label normal emotional reactions to such a devastating experience as abuse. Successfully convincing the betrayed spouse that - it really is their own issues that are causing the problem. Wayward spouses wanting and expecting to be exempt from personal (self or spousal requested) boundaries, because those are seen as a hinderance to personal freedoms,using varying societal perspectives to their advantage to imply that their spouses sense of morality is flawed. Because betrayed spouses often can’t find any clear, direct, objective evidence that the other spouse is merely trying to disadvantage them, they start doubting and questioning themselves. Those who engage in gaslighting contribute to emotional situations, through their own actions, then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter implies the feelings aren’t rational or normal. This has the gradual effect of making a spouse question the validity of their own feelings. The act of gaslighting does not simply affect those who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive people are vulnerable to gaslighting. Betrayed spouses are often so shattered, they no longer trust their own judgements and they are looking for someone else to help them see the truth of the situation. Because of the isolating nature of infidelity, the betrayed spouse is left with self-doubt as the foundation off of which to make assessments and decisions. Betrayed spouses may be reluctant to seek outside help because every time they have tried to address a problem in the marriage, they have been accused of a wrong doing that justified the questionable behavior of the cheater. Betrayed spouses have internalized these messages and fear having, yet another person, tell them they are defective and the cause of the relationship issues.
Some readers will twist this information as evidence that the gaslighted/betrayed partner is playing the part of the helpless victim. These truths are not intended to imply that spouses whom have been gaslighted (short term or for years) are helpless. Betrayed spouses need truthful information about the reality of the attitudes and confusion that have been developed as a consequence of gas-lighting behaviors. Many betrayed spouses are afraid of acknowledging this abuse for fear of being labeled "playing the victim". Confusion over the meaning of responsibility, and an propensity to feel hyper-responsible for the actions of others, contribute to the hesitancy of a gashlighted spouse to acknowledge abusive behavior. Of course it is the gaslighted spouses obligation to examine and repair the burdening sense of guilt produced from hyper-responsibility or other dysfunctional beliefs that have developed. For those who's spouses exhibit these behaviors as a temporary symptom of involvement in an affair; meaning they are not normal patterns of behavior, they will still benefit from the knowledge of how subjection to these behaviors can lead to an emotional impairing sense of self-doubt. Of course betrayed spouses have their own choices, thus they are not helpless, but in times of crisis they look to others to help them see more clearly. Misinterpretations by the betrayed spouse over the nature of benign names like the "Affair Fog", normalize abusive behavior. "The Fog" may be a common response to infidelity, but diminishing abusive behavior as "common" and or "normal" is a failure to supply a truthful and clear explanation of these behaviors. It is the responsibility of the professional to transmit a message and ensure that the message is delivered clearly. Effective communication takes place only when the listener clearly understands the message that the communicator intended to send. The problem professionals face is generalization, an essential part of the wider scientific process, in-so-that results can be applied to represent an entire group. Little scientific study has focused on specific abusive behavior patterns manifested by betraying spouses. This has the effect of giving little acknowledgment in scientific literature, from which professionals base their findings, judgments and generalizations.
Finding out about an affair is a very traumatic and confusing time, often ripe with symptoms of PTSD for the betrayed spouse. Overactive cognitive arousal causes confused thinking, as PTSD symptoms of self-blame, shame and guilt take hold, they are only prolonged by abusive behaviors employed by a cheating spouse. If we didn't normalize this abuse as "par for the course" and called it what it is, betrayed spouses may be spared undo suffering by giving them the push to say enough is enough. Pointing out the "affair fog" may give betrayed spouse hope that their spouse may eventually come around, but it also suggests that being blamed for someone else's behavior is normal and should be expected and/ or accepted. It's often not until the betrayed spouse has figured out on their own (maybe months or even years later) that this behavior is abusive, that they are willing to draw the line in the sand.
Instead of implying this behavior should be accepted, and that betrayed spouses need to focus on their own behavior, pointing out the abusive nature may help betrayed spouses snap out of the self-blame game that is part of the trauma reaction. The point being, instead of experts, therapists, clergy, etc. normalizing this behavior, why not point out the (sometime not so obvious) fact that it is abusive? While the tiptoeing around a cheaters fragile and/or inflated ego is an attempt to disarm their defensiveness and denial, for the traumatized spouse, stuck in the self-blame cycle, this approach is seen as validation of the cheaters actions.
What did you do to deserve being cheated on?The answer is nothing! No one deserves to be cheated on! By making use of unfair comparisons, wayward spouses exploit the human imperfections of the betrayed spouse to justify their own actions. Painting betrayed spouses as unpleasant or offensive, the cheater compares their own hurtful acts, employing language of non-responsibility, so that their own suffering causes their acts to become righteous. Cleansing their own moral failing by displacing measures of responsibility onto external forces. In this way, they have the power to transform their own moral failings as acts of preservations for their own well-being. The selfishness of lying and deceit become falsely maintained as acts of humbleness, by keeping the betrayed spouse from injury through exposure to the truth. Harmful acts disguised as being of high moral purpose eliminate self-judgments, so that the deception can be performed without personal distress.
Nothing is more infuriating than having unfair comparisons magnified to establish culpability, for offenses the betrayed spouse has no knowledge of. Wayward spouses use hidden verdicts to sign and seal the sentencing of the betrayed spouse, establishing the betrayed as the guilty party, thus giving themselves righteous cause for their indiscretion.
Betrayed spouses know the life shattering effects of infidelity. The overwhelming pain of having the foundations of your life torn out from under you feels like torture. Having it suggested that something you have done (or not done) is the cause of the psychological trauma, is agonizing. Betrayed spouses experience a violent blow to their innermost selves, by having the world around them suggest the pain they are experiencing is a consequence of their own actions/inactions. Betrayed spouses are often looking for validation that they in fact, did not do anything so awful, as to justify the infliction of such a cruel and painful attack to their psyche. Those who do not understand the immense pain infidelity inflicts, most likely have no comparative life experiences from which to understand the stripping away of ones dignity, worth, sense of reality, security, dreams, faith, and belief in justice. Reading through personal stories of other betrayed spouses yields evidence as to the devastation inflicted by a spouses infidelity. They bear heartbreaking comparisons between emotionally painful experiences such as war, crimes, divorce, death, and diseases, insisting these experiences do not even come close to paralleling the pain of a spouses infidelity.
Betrayed spouses must learn self-validationSelf-validation does not require external confirmation, sanction, or validation. Seeking validation from others can be a source of confirming we did not deserve the immense pain that has been inflicted upon us, but this is only part of the equation. We also need to be able to validate, support, and help ourselves by understanding that no amount of external validation will be sufficient confirmation that we have been treated unfairly and unjustly, until we establish through self-validation that the suffering caused by infidelity is certainly not deserved. Being kind to yourself requires giving yourself what you hope to get by seeking external validation from others. Seeking approval from other's, as a means of verifying your feelings as sound, logical or healthy, can be a way with which to measure their validity. Yet, when external approval becomes the yardstick by which you measure what you "should" be feeling, it can becomes a source of constant invalidation. The way we think, feel, and understand are all based on past experiences, making them dependent upon conditions existing only by relation to something else. Because everyones experiences are different, complete objectivity is relative; in other words, it is not absolute. Someone else can never be completely objective of your situation because our thinking process is tied to the specific experiences of our lives. When you are able to self-validate, the opinions of others no longer have the ability to influence restriction of your own thoughts, feelings and opinions. Someone else may feel that some action or inaction on your part is justification for your spouses infidelity, but because you are able to validate your own thoughts and feelings as legitimate, their opinions are no longer cause for personal distress. You realize self-validation is enough to authorize your opinions as appropriate and valid. Self-evaluations are no longer riddled with doubts and second guessing because you have claimed your rights to your own opinion, you have recognized your self-worth. The key to transitioning into this mindset is to maintain balance; swinging too far in either direction can lead to either self-doubt or self-righteousness. This balance allows you to express disagreement with others opinions, while not denying them of their human dignity. You realize just because someone thinks they are right, justified, or in conformity with a fact, does not make it so. Stay open to opinions, but do not let them dictate the way you "should" think, feel or act.
How Does A Betrayed Spouse Heal?
It's important to remember, healing from infidelity is a process - you cannot will yourself into healing. It is okay if you feel angry or upset reading about the process of healing, especially if you are in the crisis stage. You may have an idea of how things "should" be and feel an overwhelming sense of injustice that they are not. Post-traumatic growth refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. These sets of circumstances represent significant challenges to the adaptive resources of the individual, and pose significant challenges to individuals' way of understanding the world and their place in it. Post traumatic growth is not simply a return to baseline from a period of suffering; instead it is an experience of improvement that for some persons is deeply meaningful. Post traumatic growth occurs with the attempts to adapt to highly negative sets of circumstances that can engender high levels of psychological distress. Growth does not occur as a direct result of trauma, rather it is the individual's struggle with the new reality in the aftermath of trauma that is crucial in determining the extent to which post traumatic growth occurs.
You can take the POST TRAUMATIC GROWTH INVENTORY from the American Psychological Association to assess your current growth.
Stop the self-blame cycleUnderstand that blaming yourself may give you a sense of control, by believing that if you change something about yourself, infidelity will never happen again. This is very hard when your spouse is most likely saying you are the cause of the infidelity, so you start taking inventory of every part of your character and behavior. Your character and/or behavior CAN NOT CONTROL how your spouse CHOOSES to behave. You can not be held responsible for how someone chooses to respond to their own feelings - you are not responsible for someone else's choices. Release yourself of the self-blame burden.
Recognize and clarify emotionally abusive behavior:Free yourself from the confusion of manipulative behaviors that leave you second-guessing yourself. Refuse to take part or be drawn into blameshifting, circular conversations or invalidation of your feelings. Clarify and communicate what behavior is acceptable to you and what that looks like.This is what focusing on yourself is all about. You can not control how someone else responds to you, but you do have the power to focus on and change how you respond. Standing up for yourself and your needs can be done in nonreactive ways; learn healthy skills, and accept that you are the only one you can control.
Stop labeling yourselfYou are not stupid, naive, too caring, etc. You are the accumulation of your life experiences, this is what makes you uniquely you. No one is without faults, embrace yours as part of who you are, and do not shame yourself for them. If you have a flaw you're not proud of and it causes YOU disappointment, set out to change it for yourself.
Grieve the loss of who you wereTrauma changes us, it steels a part of our innocence and is a death to part of who we are. This, is one of the very hardest parts of infidelity because it is so unfair. Through someone else's choice, your life has been profoundly effected, yet you are left holding the consequences of those actions.
The Loss Of Innocence:With infidelity, the abuse of trust and faith; vital elements of innocence, qualities that once blessed a relationship, are redefined as dangerous beliefs that are now equivalent to naiveté. When faith, trust and innocence are shattered, something precious is lost. We often view this experience as a wound to be healed in hopes of restoring it to it's previous state. Many betrayed spouses wish they could go back in time to recapture their trust in people that existed pre-affair. This sense of stolen innocence, the robbing of your soul, is a wound that needs to be grieved, because it can never be the same as it was before it was abused. Before being assaulted by an affair, many spouses believed that people acted according to their words, and trust was, blind faith in that word - trust was something that was given based upon the words or promises of another. That sort of innocence was effortless and uncomplicated. After an affair, assumptions about trust are shattered and we feel ashamed for being so gullible. Often, it is implied that an inability to regain this sort of trust means that one is somehow damaged - this simply is not true!
- Reframing how one evaluates trust is part of the healing process. Trust is not a simple and one dimensional, black or white concept. Anyone who pushes you to trust them based on words alone, without actions and/or behaviors that back them up, is not someone who should be granted trust. Yes, trust is a decision, but it is a very different from the way the world presents it. Trust is often presented as something you either have or you don't, but trust exists on a continuum. A necessary part of reframing trust is developing discernment between words and actions. When you see demonstrations and consistency of behaviors that align with words, the solid bridge to trust is being built brick by brick. When you base trust upon "faith" that the person is who they say they are, you've done all the work building the trust bridge, but the foundation is weak, because they have not laid their part of the foundation and holes are left in that space. When you keep testing the reliability of a weak bridge, extending yourself further and further, by faith that your partner has laid their part of the foundation, you will most likely find yourself falling through the bridge. We often think of trust as something that is dependent upon us alone; we either give it, or do not give it. Trust is built through the mutual exchange of dependability, transparency, consistency, commitment and connection. Trust is not solely based upon you or the other person, it is a reciprocal exchange, based upon each persons confidence in themselves to give and receive; assigning to each individual, the same right to freely transfer something of value and to freely accept it. Trust is also based on knowing our own needs, and the ability to communicate those needs. This gives the other person the opportunity to respond to our requests and demonstrate their dependability, transparency, consistency, commitment and connection; thus adding to the mutually built foundation of trust.
Discerning the difference between faith and trust
- Faith is a strong conviction or belief in something, for which there is no evidence or proof to support the conviction of it's validity. Faith is believing in something so strongly that the persuasiveness of that belief compels acceptance by the mind as a truth or fact. Prior to an affair, many spouses employed faith as a means of belief in their spouses fidelity. Fidelity was based upon verbal agreements, and support of it's validity existed in the acceptance of it as truth or fact, without the need for proof.
- Trust is the assurance of reliability or confidence in something. A giving over, or extending of reliance to another, believing they will do or provide what is needed or right, based upon confidence from a process of previous experience. After an affair, faith in fidelity is shattered, and few ever regain a sense of faith in the fidelity of their spouse. This loss of innocence is painful because there is no type of justice that can restore the loss of your innocence. In contrast to faith, trust can be measured through a process of experiences, tangible acts over time, that demonstrate dependability, transparency, consistency, commitment and connection.
- Trust After Infidelity: When betrayed spouses ask if "Trust" can ever be regained, the answer is yes, but it may require the cheater to work overtime, taking on the majority of work to lay the foundations of trust. Ironically, to do this, they must extend Faith that the betrayed spouse, will at some point, return to the exchange. Keeping in mind, the betrayed spouse may be hesitant to step back out on a bridge that has previously crumbled beneath them. What many betrayed spouses hope is possible, is to regain the innocence of unwavering faith in fidelity that has been stolen from them. Resentment and anger are normal emotional responses until a betrayed spouse eventually accepts the loss of stolen innocence and finds contentment in replacing that lost innocence with a new version of trust. Looking at the newfound knowledge, and ability to judge a situation as an improvement of self, over the latter belief in the innocence of faith. This does not mean there are not moments of sadness over the loss, but you regard the new view as a change possessing greater value, exceeding the usefulness of the old view; it is a position of strength. Faith requires little exertion of metal resources; it is a soothing consoling reassurance that our beliefs are in accordance with a state or condition. Trust however, is composed of elaborately interconnected parts, difficult to analyze, measure and explain. Trust requires maintenance, revisiting foundations, because shifts in the world around that foundation can weaken previously strong structures. In other words, faith requires little from us other than belief, while trust requires examination of previous experiences to build confidence in it's reliability.
The Death Of A Dream:Infidelity affects how you see your future. The loss of your dreams is part of how you constructed the future in your mind. You may feel hopeless about the future because your dreams have been shattered. You feel robbed of the way your life was supposed to unfold. It is necessary to grieve the loss of your dreams, so that a new succession of images of your future, based on your new reality, have room to grow.
Disappearance Of Safety and Stability:With the loss of stability and safety, the idea of our own “identity” has been lost. Grieving the loss of stability often requires a significant change in the way one views their identity. This change can be a time when self-assessments tap into, and harness resilience, or when self-deflating, devaluing concepts enter your sense of identity. This is when you need to be especially careful not to enter the self-blame cycle.
Regain Your Identity:
See this article: Who Am I
Establish Boundaries:For those who have a hyper-active sense of responsibility, boundaries become a way of influencing, directing or restraining the behaviors and/or choices of another. Personal boundaries are not meant to be a penalty for an offense, but are for your own well-being and protection from emotional, physical and mental harm. Often the thought process is, "if this person loves me, they will listen to my rules and stop doing what it is that is hurting me." This happens when trying to hold another person to our own "Moral Boundaries" - personal moral principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong of our own behavior. The problem is personal and moral boundaries are individual rules, and this means that no one else is obligated to follow the rules you've created by your own belief of what is right and wrong. It would be nice if we could tell someone, "Listen, I don't like that, please stop." and they were obligated to listen from their own sense of moral responsibility. Believing there are certain moral standards by which you feel compelled to conduct yourself (moral boundaries), and then anticipating others (especially those close to you) will be in unanimity of opinion, harmony of feeling and in agreement - having assumed their investment is in alignment with the same moral boundaries contract you hold. People generally associate with those whom they deem hold the same moral standards as themselves, especially those we marry. After infidelity, the moral boundaries you believed your spouse possessed (being in alignment with your own) come into question. Who is this person and what do they really believe?
- Moral boundaries are different from personal boundaries. Moral boundaries direct our own behavior, while personal boundaries protect you from others behavior. When moral boundaries and personal boundaries are enmeshed, we are driven to try and force the other person into compliance with the standards of how we feel morally compelled to act. This is not to say that having standards, which you consider appropriate behavior and morally acceptable, is not within your personal rights; but forcing those standards as rules onto someone else is not something that can be enforce. By thinking that punishment for violations will bring the other person back into compliance, the betrayed spouse is placed in the role of authoritarian. Thus using penalty for non-fulfillment of what is deemed by the betrayed spouse as a moral obligation of other person. You are well within your right to set limits, but your spouse can choose to honor them or not.
- Enmeshing the concept of personal boundaries (how we protect ourselves) and moral boundaries (expectations of conformity to rules of conduct believed to be right) results in the belief that others must behave in a manner consistent with the personal standards by which we would conduct ourselves. This is where contempt appears: It is the feeling that this persons beliefs are beneath consideration if they differ from our own, and they are deserving of scorn because they disregarded boundaries that should have been taken into consideration. It is a mixture of disgust and anger directed toward someone you feel is morally inferior to yourself. It is especially hard to navigate, and not feel contempt toward someone who has explicitly and repeatedly told you that their moral boundaries are in-line with your own, yet their actions continually demonstrate otherwise. Agreed upon marital boundaries that are consistently crossed by a cheating spouse propel a betrayed spouse to try and keep the cheater in line - an attempt to hold them to the agreements they have made. Consistent agreed upon boundary failure by a romantic partner is not a reflection of a defect in your ability to hold your spouse accountable (accountability takes two people)- you cannot control or change another person. Consistent boundary failures are about your spouses lack of self-imposed limits and an inability to honestly communicate their preferences, opinions and desires. It is their responsibility to protect mutually agreed upon marital boundaries, and no amount of going over and over "agreed upon limits" will change your spouses choices to dismiss your agreements.
- Personal boundaries are meant to allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others, while moral boundaries are the lines we draw for our own behavior. Personal boundaries are the limits we use to separate ourselves from those whom would risk behaving in ways that are threatening enough to cause violations to our own worth. In addition to boundaries, separateness from others requires self validation, resilience, and a stable self-concept or identity. When you value yourself, the consequences you implement for boundary violations are not about punishing the other person, to bring them to agreement with your belief of what is acceptable; instead, consequences are the natural result of actions you take to preserve the value and worth you place on yourself.
Assess your world view:The World View is our standard of how things are or should be in the world we live in. If you've lived your life believing in the fairness of a just world, convinced that being a good person and doing the right thing will keep you from suffering, you may feel especially resentful and hopeless. The world is an unfair place, there are innocent victims, and your behavior cannot control the choices of others. In the beginning of this paradigm shift (a world view that controls the way we understand the world in which we live. A paradigm shift occurs when the dominant paradigm is replaced by a new paradigm), you may want to cling to your old belief system, as it feels safe and predictable. Resistance to examination of your beliefs may at first appear to be a trait of mental power and strength. Soon you realize examination does not make what you believed, a wrong committed by you; your beliefs were simply a lack of another perspective. Examination of our world view tests the foundations upon which our lives are built, and we often find that we accepted these views as truth because that is what we have been taught. When there is no reason to question why we believe what we do, we are content to think our beliefs lack error. Examining beliefs taught to us through family, community and culture allows us to test the dimensions of something that was previously viewed from one angle. It's a test of quality, a demand of rigorous proof that what we believe, is in fact advantageous to our well being. For example: The belief in a just world provides one with a sense of control over the world around them. Believing in this control provided a natural sense invulnerability. If you examine this belief from top to bottom, you may determine that doing the right thing (whatever that is for you) is part of your moral code, but believing it will keep you from suffering does not withstand the test of examination, based on the experience you've been through. Then the hard work of accepting and integrating the new belief into the foundation of your life begins. It is painful to release old beliefs, they are hard wired into our brains and literally a part of who we are.
How do you see the world?Everyone has a different view of the world we live in. How can two people see and interpret the same event in a completely different way? It's because peoples perceptions are formed through their life experiences, biological components that direct the way brains process information, expectations and messages from families, social groups, communities, and cultures. All we need do is turn on the news, visit a social media sight or talk with someone from a different culture to see that differing opinions and perceptions are the source of much debate and conflict. Thus, there is no set way to view the world, because everyones perceptions are different. Of course there are social norms, rules and regulations that we are encouraged to follow, that allow for basic standards of order. The good news about this is, you have the freedom to choose how you will see the world. The down side of this is, so does everyone else, and you may not always agree with the perceptions and beliefs others hold. Embarking on a paradigm shift is a painful and difficult process. The catalyst for this process is usually a personal crisis, one that has cause an immense amount of suffering.
Where do you start?Start with something that is causing you a great deal of confusion, because holding onto that belief no longer serves the function in your life that it once did. Examine it; How did the idea form? Mentally break it down, including all of its characteristics. Is this an idea that your formed on your own? Was it a repetitive message you received from your family of origin, social groups, society? Have you ever examined the idea or concept before? If so, what was happening that made you frame it the way you did? This is not a process of dismissing moral values. If you truly believe in something, your belief in what is right will direct how you reframe your understanding of the world. Most importantly, what do you believe now? This is not a short one time process. Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle, where each piece represents a different concept. Once you examine one belief naturally other beliefs will be affected, because life is not black and white. You have to make the pieces of the puzzle fit in a way that gives you a solid footing for your beliefs. Your life has been shattered and nothing seems to make sense anymore, your job is put the pieces of your life back together in such a way as to give you confidence that what you believe is solid. Knowing you took the time to examine each piece and built a system that is solid while complying with your moral values.
Keep in mind that everyone's perceptions differ based on what they were taught and through their experiences. The important thing is that you reframe your own beliefs and values in a way that makes sense to you and gives you a solid foundation to stand on. This is not meant to be a debate about how things "should" be, but an examination of beliefs that are causing you suffering. This process is NOT a way of making infidelity, or your suffering, okay or justified! It is a way of dealing with the consequences of the injustice.
Some Examples Concepts That You May Want To Evaluate and Review
Fairness vs. Equality
Fairness vs. Justice
Correlation vs. Causation
Trust vs. Faith
Self Esteem vs. Self Compassion
Altruism vs. Codependency
Self-Love vs. Narcissism
Work On Self Esteem & Self-Compassion:
Assess your behavior toward yourself.When you feel anxious, depressed or stressed-out your self-talk is likely to become extreme, you’ll be more likely to expect the worst and focus on the most negative aspects of your situation. How much self-compassion do you have?
Identify yourself based on skills and abilities:Instead of identifying yourself by achievements and failures.
Identify Your Worth:Many of us have identified our worth based upon the love of the people in our lives. The more you make your psychological identity dependent on your job, your wealth, love or any external object, the more likely you will lose this identity when you lose that external object.
Work On Resilience:When you have resilience, you harness inner strength that helps you rebound from a setback or challenge. It is a belief in yourself that you can get through any challenge. Resilience is the ability to overlook what should have been and accept what is. When stress, adversity or trauma strikes, you still experience anger, grief and pain, but you're able to keep functioning — both physically and psychologically. Resilience isn't about toughing it out, being stoic or going it alone. In fact, being able to reach out to others for support is a key component of being resilient.
- maintain good relationships with close family members, friends and others
- avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems
- accept circumstances that cannot be changed
- develop realistic goals and move towards them
- take decisive actions in adverse situations
- look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss
- developing self-confidence
- keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context
- maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished
- take care of one's mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one's own needs and feelings.
Transform trauma into something meaningful:Depending on where you are in your healing, this statement likely makes you very angry. You may say to yourself, "I will never assign positive meaning for something so immensely painful!" Don't mistake this statement to mean - giving credit to the trauma. It means giving credit to yourself, for overcoming the trauma. Using your hard earned lessons to give some meaning to all that you've been through. Transforming undeserved hurts and suffering into something that you went through -not in the name of nothing, but to turn the senselessness of it all into something that you can think of as "useful knowledge". Whether that knowledge benefits you or someone else. You need to feel that you've have gained something from this experience, to balance out that which you have lost. Accepting that you can never completely repair what has been broken, but you can replace it with something new. If you skip the step of grieving the loss of your innocence, you cannot move into this stage of healing.
Should you stay after infidelity?First, know that you did not cause your spouses infidelity! Cheating is a dysfunctional attempt at dealing with an internal issue, by tracing or attributing it's source to an external action, condition, state or quality, as the critical element for an affair. This perceived critical element is most often attributed to the betrayed spouse. The danger for the betrayed spouse in identifying with the internal justifications of the cheater, and internalizing these attributes, is entering the self-blame cycle.
While most information about affairs is intended to apply to the general population, your specific situation is anything but general. What is written in a book, on a website or other medium does not necessarily apply to your situation. Betrayed spouses are so often consumed with making the "right decision" that they go searching for answers that no one but themselves have the ability to make. The most frustrating aspects of trying to make sense out of all the general information available, is the lack of specific and tangible things one can do in an attempt to sort through the quagmire of contradicting information.
Get your mind clear:Infidelity and the behaviors that go along with it can have you second guessing your own sanity. Clarifying behaviors can help you avoid manipulation, and second guessing yourself. Clarification improves your ability to set boundaries and contributes to an overall sense of self-control. When your mind is spinning and lines become blurred, you are susceptible to confusion, and less likely to stand up for yourself and what you believe to be true.
Discerning the difference between Justification & Self-Compassion:
- When a person encounters discomfort, by holding two or more contradictory beliefs or values at the same time, they will strive for internal consistency. Justification is an attempt to deny any negative feedback associated with a behavior, by using external excuses to justify ones own actions. The excuse can be a displacement of personal responsibility , lack of self-control or social pressure.
- Justification aims to diminish ones responsibility for a behavior, and avoid feelings of guilt.
- Justification excuses, minimizes or displaces the impact of ones own behavior, denies responsibility for the consequences of ones own choices, making personal actions a direct result of influences rather than choice.
- Justification is a rigid singular perspective putting ones self in the position of being righteous
- Justification makes personal actions the fault of others and seeks to be right.
- Justification does not identify with another's pain, it is motivated by ones own suffering, guilt or pain, it is void of empathy.
- Justification is a byproduct of choices that have been rationalized as forced upon ones life, because of limitations in alternatives. Therefore consequences for personal actions are dismissed as undeserved, unfair and unwarranted because there was no other option.
- Justification overlooks the flexibility of the human minds ability to make choices despite the circumstance. Instead justification uses cause and effect as the controlling force driving those choices, thereby giving up personal control to forces outside of us.
- Justification is an excuse for behavior intended to vindicate, or not be blamed for an act that has been criticized as unreasonable, out of line, or wrong.
- Self-compassion acknowledges a behaviors impact upon self and others, including resolve to correct or not repeat a behavior that was not within our moral limits.
- Self-compassion acknowledges personal responsibility for actions, while understanding that ones choices are often based on the knowledge or beliefs available at the time. It seeks understanding for ones own behavior without excusing, minimizing or denying it's consequences.
- Self-compassion includes self forgiveness and accountability for wrong actions, not denial or justification of them.
- While justification is driven by the belief that one had no other choice, self-compassion acknowledges one had other choices, that they did not see, or chose to ignored at the time.
- Self-compassion makes wrong behavior something acknowledged and vowed not to be repeat, by implementing change in behavior, while simultaneously holding imperfectness in perspective.
- Self-Compassion is moved by human suffering. One is able to identify with others pain, and has an understanding of the imperfectness of humanity, without excusing responsibility.
- Self-compassion seeks good will toward yourself, while holding others rights to compassion, equality and human dignity in awareness.
- Self-compassion seeks to understand what aroused a moral failure, not as an excuse, but as an opportunity to recognize it in the future for self accountability.
- When we have failed, made a moral or ethical mistake, self compassion does not label the logical and understandable consequences as unfair. Self-compassion accepts responsibility, without seeking to self punish by devaluation, instead it seeks understanding.
- Self-compassion is not void of remorse. Feeling bad for our behavior is the catalyst from which moral change is be implemented. One acknowledges personal failing, but shame is not a method used for ongoing self punishment.
Infidelity Excuses vs. Explanations
There is nothing more infuriating to a betrayed spouse than hearing, "I made a mistake!". Betrayed spouses are overcome with immense anger when reasons for engaging in an affair are laid at their feet, as justification for engaging in such a life shattering and destructive decision. In trying to sort through the quagmire of responses given, a betrayed spouse is faced with sorting through rationalizations, justifications, excuses and the real underlying explanations for a spouses decision to engage in an affair. Recognizing the difference is a step in helping you decide where you stand. To be clear, your spouses explanation for engaging in an affair does not mean it was okay or justified. The explanation is a starting point for them to begin taking a deeper look at, and understanding themselves. If you want to explore that journey with them, that is up to you.
- Excuses usually start with "You, they, s/he"
- An excuse is an attempt to lessen the personal fault attached to an offense.
- An excuse defends against, and exempts responsibility for ones own actions.
- An excuse is often presented as an accidental action, lacking in control or choice; intended to avert negative repercussions.
- An excuse is justification of an action, often based on personal reactions to someone else's behavior.
- An excuse is often given as being the result of an involuntary or coerced action.
- Excuses direct the blame onto others, while absolving personal responsibility.
- With an excuse, there is no desire to examine personal reasoning, as one is already convinced they made the only available choice; their actions being driven or forced by feelings within themselves based on external stimuli.
- Excuses are defensive and seek to avoid criticism or feedback
- Explanations usually start with "I".
- An explanation is clarification, based on personal experience, without dismissing personal failings.
- Explanations acknowledge responsibility for actions and includes personal vulnerability.
- An explanation puts the management of an action under ones own control through choices, thoughts or experiences.
- An explanation is a declaration of the underlying meaning of action/s and include adjustments for personal misunderstandings
- There is ownership of choices with an explanation.
- With an explanation, there is a desire to explore personal motivations, without blaming others, and a yearning to understand and be understood.
- Explanations are reflective of ones internal state, irregardless of external influences.
- Explanations are not intended to absolve accountability or minimize harm they may have caused.
Unaccountable vs. Accountability
Disclosure of infidelity has the distinct effect of making you feel like you've been a fool. Feeling as though you are being taken advantage of, duped, having the wool pulled over your eyes, or just plain old naive, and causes hyper-vigilance to escalate. First, stop blaming yourself for someone else's deceit. Their behavior is not a reflection of your emotional or intellectual intelligence. Being deceived does not make you dumb, weak, naive, foolish or a pushover. Having the truth concealed from you is not something you have control over. Relationships are not about being a detective to uncover what is happening with your spouse; what is happening with and within them is something they need to freely share. Could you make yourself more available, more approachable, more or less of something, sure, but ultimately it comes down to their choice to share what is happening. You may fear that not seeing or uncovering continued signs of deceit (now that you know your spouse was unfaithful) makes you the one to blame if they continue to deceive you. The old saying, "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" if taken at face value, really is a cultural catalyst for self blame. Your confusion, is in part, because your spouse used words to paint a picture about their activities and inner lives that were false. Words are the direct way to discover what is happening in others lives; they give us a representation from which to understand the internal thoughts and feelings of others; assuming the person communicating them is being honest. When you suspect someone is being dishonest, your mind creates all sorts of scenarios, ways in which they may be lying, taking advantage of you, or misrepresenting themselves. The motivation for trying to foresee impending deception, is to be at the ready; preparing yourself for action in hopes of protect yourself from feeling taken advantage of or duped again. This is a normal reaction to betrayal, but it can blind you to observing what is happening in the present, because you are too busy preparing for what might come. Taking a step back, removing yourself from the noise of words and the scenarios in your head, allowing yourself a clearer picture, by observing behavior without those other distractions. If you've told your spouse exactly what they can do to begin restoring your relationship, their behavior will tell the story you are unable to currently trust through their words.
- Words and behavior are inconsistent
- Requests for accountability are met with defensiveness.
- Mystery, circular conversations or confusion surrounds spousal requests
- Behavior is unpredictable or strange
- Relinquishing of agreed upon duty by means of excuses
- Self-interested, one sided perspective, putting another person in a subordinate position creating personal exemption from answerability
- Behaviors are present that back-up words
- Requests for accountability are met with openness
- Transparency, direct communication and expectations are clearly stated
- Behavior is predictable and reliable
- Acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for ones own actions
- Account giving relationship between two individuals
A deal breaker is an event or action that renders other parts of an agreement null and void.Betrayed spouses must decide if the rest of their marriage was rendered null and void by the infidelity. Obviously the agreement of fidelity has been breached and has not been honored by your spouse. Infidelity is a complete breach of trust. You trusted your partner to uphold the agreement by putting faith in their words.
One of the agonizing parts of infidelity is deciding to stay in, or leave the marriage.
Infidelity turns your life on end and shatters your belief system.The pain is agonizing and often the message is, "You need to change for your spouse to remain faithful, because, of course, the reason for their infidelity was you." If you blame yourself for someone else's actions, making yourself the one responsible, there is no incentive for that person to make any changes themselves, because they can always dump the blame on you, and you'll take it. Yes, it's true, you were not a perfect spouse, you've made mistakes in your relationship, but that is also true for those who's spouses never had an affair. It is not your imperfections or your inadequacy that drove your spouse to cheat. If that were the case, no one would be faithful, because no one is perfect.
The entire relationship needs to shift, and the good part about that is, you are now in a position to negotiate the relationship you've wanted. If your spouse truly wants to save the marriage, they will be willing to give you what you need to feel safe in the marriage. If they are unwilling to give you these things, your answer of whether to stay or go will be clear. Some questions you may want to ask yourself:
• What do I want from this relationship? Is my partner willing to negotiate with me?
• What do I need from this relationship? These are things that are essential to my well being.
• How open can I be with my feelings? Am I blamed, ignored, or disregarded when I share my feelings?
• Am I putting myself in physical danger by staying in this relationship? Am I willing to sacrifice my well being? Why?
• How will my decision affect my children?
• How does this relationship affect my self-esteem?
• Do l love myself as much as I love my spouse?
• Have I accepted the fact that my spouse will change, if and when they are ready to do so? Am I willing to wait until that happens, or live with things the way they are?
• Have I accepted that if my spouse wants to cheat, they will find a way? Do I blame myself for this? Why?
• If my spouse cheats again, will it leave me emotionally bankrupt? Would I blame myself for making the "wrong" decision?
• What practical things do I need to consider? Financial matters, housing, jobs, relocations, etc.
• Do I believe I have the right to be happy?
• Do I have the courage to go against family or others who might be upset with my decision to either stay or leave?
• Will I judge myself based on what others think?
• Am I truly making my own decision, or am I doing what other people or society expects me to do?
• Am I willing to focus on myself, and why this infidelity made me feel what I am feeling? Is there anything inside me that needs healing?
• If a friend was in my position, what advise would I give them? Why?
It is often recommended that betrayed spouses not make any final decisions to the fate of the marriage until the extreme emotional response has passed, usually a minimum of 6 months is recommended. It is unfair that someone else's selfish choices have brought you to this place, but I promise you, this time you take to heal yourself (including any old wounds) can be a transformation that you will look back on with a positive perspective. Not that you will ever be happy your spouse had an affair, but you can be amazed at the strength you possess to transform yourself and transcend a painful situation. It takes a lot of hard work and walking through a lot of pain. Don't shame yourself for what you are feeling now, anger, hate, pain, sadness, self-pity, etc. are all part of the process. You are not defective, you are the sum of your life experiences and that makes you who you are.