After discovering your partner’s affair, it is perfectly natural to be torn in two. One half of you hopes that the marriage can be saved (and commits to working to find out what went wrong and trying to sort things out) and the other half wants to get the hell out of there.
- So how do you balance these two instincts?
- When does trying to understand your partner become ignoring his or her abusive behaviour?
- Perhaps the most important question of all is – when to give up trying to save a marriage?
A Reader Writes…
I wanted to give you another update on my situation. Finally, after 4 years post discovery and 2 years since coming to the realisation that I have been in an emotionally abusive relationship. After this realisation, I’ve come to an active decision to want to divorce. I have signed papers as of last week and the divorce is final. Things are surprisingly good, at least for now. Contact is minimal with my ex, but cordial and cooperative so far, regarding visitation with our daughter. We’ll see how things go.
Hindsight is 20/20. I’d like to share what I see. Kind of as a post mortem, a written exit session to our correspondence, if you will.
Hope sometimes clouds judgement and we cannot discern whether we are in a terrible situation that can be remedied, or an abusive one from which we should extricate ourselves, especially when we are the abused.
I am in a positive place now where I have found employment, a supportive network of friends and family to rebuild, and back in therapy with a therapist I trust. I’ve told her I want to work on self-worth issues, and coping techniques for anxiety through CBT. Now, with time, I can honestly say that the affair has released me from the grips of the abusive relationship. In the end, I believe it was an Exit Affair. In perhaps an odd way, I am grateful for the series of emotionally violent events, I certainly do not agree with how everything progressed, but I know had it not been as violent, I would probably still be sitting on the fence and saying how when you’re married for this long, shit happens and it’s not about how good or how bad things are, but how we deal with breakdown or success that creates or defines the quality of life. We’ll get through this. We did get through it. I survived. The whole how we deal with… is often true in many cases, but not when we are in abusive situations. In the future, it may be helpful to have an assessment tool to see whether we might be in abusive situation, within the context of the affair landscape for which your clients seek your help.
After deciding to disentangle from this unhealthy relationship, I created boundaries. I’ve taken action to disengage in abusive behavior. Just because the ball is thrown our way doesn’t mean we have to catch it. It’s almost a reflex. I did that for many years, not realising we don’t have to be part of the dance. We are bullied into it. I’ve realized to my surprise, that we can calmly say, I’m not speaking with you until you can address me without shouting, and speak together in a calm tone of voice. Then if it doesn’t abate, to just hang up. It’s so many of the things I’ve been afraid of doing. It works, and in my case, I think it stunned him. That he couldn’t get to me. Things stopped escalating, because he couldn’t get to me. Nothing can escalate if there is no effect to amplify, there is no effect, nor feelings of control or gratification to amplify.
It took many years. But I feel well now. I wanted to thank you for the valuable coping tools in those initial dark days. And to get me to see the situation as it is, taking the focus off of the blame, and onto the dysfunction, get about to being constructive. And compassionate towards ourselves and to our partners. To see things not as the cheater and the betrayed, but contexualizing it, using the framework of *discovery*, rather than on the affair. There is too much to deal with and sort through to attach judgement to the situation and to each person’s position, And affairs are extremely complex things, I now see. I am really in favor of pro-marriage counseling. And though I’ve chosen not to stay in my marriage, I don’t see it as a failure. That’s important. I think it’s important for people who are pro-marriage to understand this when they go through what we go through. Even if we are pro-marriage, and we decide to divorce, it is not failure. Success is defined not by the longevity or the continuity of a marriage, but actively taking the choice to give both individuals the possibility to continue to grow. At least that’s how I see it. After all, who want a marriage to survive, if the people in it feel dead and deadened by each other and the semblance of a life that they’re making together?
In the end, I believe how we respond to, or how we use the discovery of an affair (or whatever difficulty in relationships we might be facing) makes a difference in how we live. I believe there is a difference between the discovery of an affair, and not the affair itself. The discovery can be a springboard, an opportunity for stocktaking, a catalyst for change, a step away from dysfunction towards something more positive and constructive. Or, we can use it as blame for our problems, justification for self pity, loathing, a crutch or an excuse to solicit sympathy. It’s up to each person to decide what they are going to do with this difficulty. I never thought I’d be saying this, but this experience has made me a better person. A more honest parent and person, And perhaps a more patient, communicative, openly imperfect but totally present partner. I aspire to be one, at least. I’m learning so much about myself, myself in the context of people and relationships, and the human condition. It is an amazing service you are giving to people, and society.
Thank you for your gift of sharing, listening, and teaching us how to see, and navigate from murky to clear, open waters.
With warm regards and gratitude,