GETTING EVEN: a common response to cheating
“Hell hath no fury like a women’s scorn!”
And….”hell hath no fury like a man’s either!
Joan E. Childs, LCSW
When it comes to cheating, men and women respond very similarly, despite what they may tell you. It’s difficult for them to let go of the mental video that replays over and over, imagining their spouse with another partner. The gut wrenching feeling that pierces their hearts also shatters their trust, belief system, self-esteem, relationship/marriage and quite often, their lives. This is where the genders merge. It is where the human element super-cedes gender. When a heart is broken, gender is irrelevant. The response is more connected to the individual than the gender. Both men and women feel the hurt and pain. The most common response to hurt is anger. Getting even becomes a personal choice, and__ it’s a poor one.
Carol called me early one morning on my way to my office in tears, nearly gasping between her words. “I need to see you. Do you have any time today?”
She discovered her husband of nineteen years had been having an affair with his secretary. When she confronted him, he had no way out because the secretary’s husband called Carol after he discovered them dead to rites. Carol’s vitriolic response was to “get even.” Her boss had been flirting with her for years, and her revenge was to have an affair with him.
When Carol came into my office that afternoon and spilled her guts, literally and figuratively, (she vomited), I asked her if she had one wish, what would it be. Her first response was murderous rage, “To cut off his b____”, she screeched. (ala Loretta Babbit) After the rage, came the tears, the disbelief, the “What am I going to dos?” and “how will I ever get passed this?”
Ted learned from a co-worker that his wife was having an affair with her fitness trainer. What made matters worse, was that the fitness trainer, was shared by both Ted and his wife for nearly nine years. Ted was devastated and felt betrayed by both of them.
When Ted came in to see me he could hardly speak. His tears were endless. He howled like a wounded animal when he tried to tell me what happened. Clutching his chest and shifting to holding his head in his hands, bending over in despair, I thought he might collapse. He was speechless for the first fifteen minutes. Every time he tried to speak, the sobbing swallowed his words. After he collected his emotions, having used his handkerchief until it was soaked and at least half a box of tissues, he mumbled, “I ‘m going to kill that bastard! He deserves to die!” (ala UNFAITHFUL, the movie) I gave her everything, never denied her anything and this is how she pays me back?” The profanity followed the tears, and then the tears returned. After asking him the same question I asked Carol, he said, “I want my wife back, but I want to f—k his first!
Carol and Ted’s response reflects most of the feelings my clients have when they learn about “the affair”. No matter male or female, the shock and grief is pervasive, progressive and feels permanent. It disrupts their sleep, their work and ability to stay focused. The betrayal becomes omnipresent interfering with the quality of their lives. Men more often want to kill the other man; women more often want to kill their spouse. The next best thing to committing murder is to have a “get even” affair.
THE PAST AND HOW IT AFFECTS THE PRESENT
This is the time to see a therapist. Tit for tat is not a solution. Believe it or not, relationships that have suffered infidelity can be repaired and often are better as a result of working through the issues that had never been addressed. .
There is usually a reason for an affair. Sometimes it is conscious, but more often it is the unconscious that dictates our behavior. Nature abhors a vacuum, so we tend to fill the emptiness with something that feels good. Sometimes it is a substance, like food, alcohol, or drugs. Sometimes it can be an activity, but more often, the choice is another mate to take away the pain of loneliness, boredom, anger or whatever might have been lost. The writing is often on the wall before we want to see it. Denial is the most common defense mechanism humans have. It’s too painful to face, so we avoid. Avoidance makes our relationships become contaminated over time. A common response to an issue is to sweep it under the rug until the rug resembles the Swiss Alps. Most couples don’t know how to effect change in their relationship, so they act out their feelings, and too often there arises a crisis that forces them to look at the issue. So, an affair can be a blessing in disguise if it is addressed with a professional. It can become the catalyst for understanding and change.
Most of us grew up in dysfunctional families to a greater or lesser degree. We had poor role models for communication. The two most important roles we have in life, that of being a husband/wife and a parent is something we know least about, and are least prepared to do. Some of us were intentionally or unintentionally abused, neglected or abandoned, leaving us to adapt in order to survive. We unconsciously bring this survival roles and wounds into our adult relationships, hoping to heal the past. We unwittingly choose the worst nightmarish partners to help us work through our issues. In a way, this is supposed to happen. It is that partner that we chose, that can teach us what we need to know about ourselves. In most cases, divorce or break-ups occur before we have a chance to mend our past and save our relationships. It is the therapy that can help heal these wounds and find new pathways to save what might have been destroyed.
The goal is to find our authenticity and abandon our survival/adaptive roles. Intimacy requires authenticity. There is no intimacy without conflict, and unless you are in your true essence, conflict cannot be resolved. When you are in your essence, connection is created and time is eternal. When you are in your survival roles, those roles will hi-jack your relationship, and the connection will be lost.
Advancing technology in couple’s counseling has paved the way to perpetual possibilities and hope for healthier relationships. We now know ways to teach couples to reconnect and reach levels of intimacy never before realized. We understand that human beings are wired for connection and when we disconnect, we go into crisis. The goal is to help couples become authentic; to relinquish their survival roles so they can discover each other, perhaps for the first time, thus allowing them to fall in love again. When the relational space between them becomes polluted, a “disconnect” is certain to happen. When we clean up the contaminated space, we reconnect with a more meaningful, honest and mature relationship than ever thought possible
We clean up the space by having the couples cross the bridge to the world of their partner, leaving behind their perceptions, opinions, and judgments while they visit their partner’s world. They learn how to be present to one another; they learn the language of the other. They learn about their partner’s past, their fears, and childhood experiences that they may never have known before. And___. they learn to listen with a third ear, an open mind and an open heart. Together, they build new neuro-pathways to the future. They learn new ways of communicating. They have a new set of tools for conflict resolution. They learn how to be in attunement with each other. The space between them becomes sacred once more.
SUMMARY: GET BETTER; NOT EVEN!
What to do if this happens to you
1, Recognize you have a deeper problem than the affair. Understand that the affair is the result of the deeper problem.
- Get professional help with a trained couple’s counselor who can help you understand the underlying causes of the affair and teach you how to express your feelings that may have been repressed until it could no longer stay contained. Acting out is a feeling that gets translated into a behavior.
- Understand that not unlike an abscess, the only way to make it go away is to lance it. It hurts like hell, but once the pus is out, healing begins and the pain disappears. This is a metaphor for the therapeutic process.
- Don’t go for right or wrong. Hang in there and go for resolution. Be patient __this takes time. But the results make it all worthwhile. See the movie SPRING HOPE!! It’s my first exercise for those of you who can relate to this article!