Esther Perel – Why is divorce more acceptable than infidelity?

I have been having sad thoughts (and dreams)  the last many days (weeks actually). In the wake of our recent therapy, and advice to start to do things together, I have been struggling with the unfairness of my husbands cheating and I cannot seem to put it to bed. I think about how cold and cruel he was, and how he lavished time, and attention on the others, when he should have been talking to me and devoting the considerable hunting and hiding time on our marriage.

I woke up to a great article in my email from Esther Perel. If you have not seen her TED TALK on infidelity, it is worth the google, it got me through the very rough first weeks after D-day. In this article it speaks about Hilary and Bill Clinton, and her decision to move past her husbands most public spectacle dishonouring their marriage.

I have been grappling with this “dishonour” to our vows, common decency, truth and trust and I cannot seem to get out from under the negative thoughts and feelings.

In the past, it was divorce that carried the stigma. Today choosing to stay after an affair when you can leave is the new shame. Is it old news that marriage requires work? Recovering from the crisis of an affair (which many couples do) is a sign of resilience, steadfastness, strength, respect and humility”. Esther Perel

I have felt the shame of staying, I have felt that he is “getting away” with it, I have been gazed upon with looks of pity from friends who know and I have heard the standards “I would kick him to the curb”, “clearly you are leaving him right?”, “you need to move on and start over, you don’t want to waste more time on this”. I have found some truth in all these statements, but they do not help, and I don’t feel they are right.

Why is it so easy to think of the negative aspects in every detail, where I was when he was with this one or that one, how I felt when he was hurting me, all the connect the dots moments of his lies, but harder to remember our early years, our wedding, family Christmases, passionate love-making, road trips to the cottage and good times? I know there were more of those than the bad times, but the bad times are like pit bulls hanging on to my brain. He is making the efforts I need to repair, letting me know where he is, investing his time in doing all the little things that have been lost along the way, to renew my trust and restore our connection. Why is my brain hard-wired for disaster, and how long will it be that way?? I have been told many times and in therapy that I have a very forgiving nature but right now it is elusive.

One poster on the Perel article said something wonderful

I stayed with my wife after her affair, something I thought I would never do when it happened. It was difficult at first, but with counselling we have both moved past it now. We learned of other friends’ affairs in the years since and all of them ended in divorce except one. One thing I’ve observed along the way is that divorce doesn’t lead to the revenge or happiness that many people seek, in fact, many divorced couples were still fighting with each other long after we had reconciled our marriage. I learned to view my wifes’ affair and the impact it had on my mental health as a disease that we each had, but have since recovered” – Butch Rittelmann

I know I cannot view my husband as just a cheater, or just a sex-addict, or someone who was able to trample my heart and soul when he was in his sick place but right now, that is a large part of how I view him even when he is being open, communicative, loving and involved. This is my stumbling place.

He has been my friend, my lover, we have buried his parents,  taken care of each other in sickness, made some of our dreams into realities. In short we have been a couple with our ups and downs, and the ups have been great. I have often said, before the cheating, that I was in with both feet to whatever life threw at us. When we got married, I knew we would have times when we did not like each other very much, it was all part of the marriage package. Cheating, lies and emotional abuse were never part of that equation in my head. I wish it had been on my radar back then, perhaps I would have looked for the clues or at least not been so blind-sided when it hit me. For now I am seeking to rebuild if possible…


7 thoughts on “Esther Perel – Why is divorce more acceptable than infidelity?

  1. It IS hard to remember the good times, and the reasons why we were with them in the first place. I’m often re-writing history in my mind, because since what I believed – that we had an honest, respectful, monogamous relationship – was completely wrong, then maybe NONE of what I believed was good or happy really was either. But that can’t be right, can it?

    I’m also learning that staying is harder than I first thought it would be, especially since, as you said, our society seems to think kicking the cheater to the curb is the only honorable way to handle things. By not choosing divorce, we are either co-dependent, weak, or lazy. I thought divorce would be more difficult, even though we have no children and could pretty easily make a clean break if it went that way. I do have days when I wonder why I’m still here, and if I’ll be able to see him again as anything more than the man-boy who inflicted the worst pain I’ve ever felt.

    But then there are the other days, when he’s trying very hard to make me believe, and I do want to believe again. Now that H and I understand how his thought process worked while he was cheating, and now that H seems to want to live a different kind of life, I want to see where this leads. I’m not ready to say “I’m done”. It’s an impossible situation.

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    1. Staying is harder in many ways. When H and I separated after he had been cheating for a year (I had no idea), the horrific behaviour levelled me. Even though I finally asked him to leave, I felt abandoned, because emotionally he had done that. When he asked to come back, the sting of that year seemed impossible to heal. Now on top of that, I have the added layer of infidelity.

      Staying is not weak, it feels impossible, hard and not for the faint of heart. Easier but hard would be leaving and starting fresh.

      I hate that others and myself, question the whole issue of my being co-dependant or damaged in some way. We have no children and I am very much financially independent. It has never been hard for me to find a partner….but I choose to make the slow steady decision rather than the rash emotional one.

      You and I seem we are very similar, I am not ready to jump in with both feet, rather a toe in the water right now. I am not ready to be done but not ready to be “in”. We do talk of the future, but in my mind there is an “if we are still together” clause. I feel guilty thinking that. Anyone that has bridged this to the other side should be commended….I hope we can be two of the success stories!

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  2. II…you write so eloquently of the mental wars that rage in a betrayed’s head when we find out about the double life we lived. Integrating what we thought was with what actually was is overwhelmingly difficult whether we stay or leave. That’s what I see you are doing, and where you are in the process: trying to figure out what your marriage was really versus what you thought your marriage was.

    It’s okay, no, it is ESSENTIAL to go through this on your healing path. It sucks, but without it, you are doomed to bring all that pain inward and it will destroy from the inside out.

    My encouragement to you is to allow yourself the time and space to do what your being is so intuitively and beautifully moving you toward. Allow yourself to work through the questions and put together the puzzle pieces in authenticity. Ask the questions you want to understand, and then work that new piece into your understanding of your life. It does take lots of headspace for awhile, but it doesn’t take it forever. I promise. I PROMISE.

    I encourage the beautiful souls that I have the privilege to walk alongside in this process to do a couple things: first – don’t make a plan for the outcome (stay? leave?) Walk this out, moment by moment, day by day. The answer will unfold in combination with your own grasp of what you want and how your partner’s actions line up with the words coming out of his mouth now (since they absolutely did not in the past). Also – don’t focus on forgiveness. Yes…I believe that forgiveness is ultimately paramount for our (the betrayed’s) wholeness and healing, but real forgiveness isn’t on a time-table, and is costly to us. If you walk this out, it will come whether you stay or leave. If you rush it, or force it, it never goes well. And sweet II, trust the process. Learn to listen and hear your gut again.

    Realize that you have learned reality was not reality, and that is trauma…you are recovering from a traumatic event, and you experience physical, mental and emotional ripples. It is a process to synthesize and much as we wish, it can’t be rushed.

    I am thinking of you with so much compassion and grace, and know you will get beyond this.

    HUGS, dear II.

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    1. savingshards your kind words mean so much to me, your words of wisdom even more. I wish none of us had to walk this path but the sliver lining is that I will meet people like you, who are kind and kindred and for that at least I can have extreme gratitude. I hope that I can be the same kind of support for others, as you are being to me. I hope I can impart some peace and knowledge to those that will come after me or are in the same place of healing.

      Your words ground me at my core. Thank you my friend.

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      1. Thank you for your kind words. I had the same gratitude for the wonderful women who propped me, cared for me, shared with me. And you will be that, and more. Thank YOU for taking time to grow and heal. Hope your week is good. HUGS!

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  3. “I have felt the shame of staying, I have felt that he is “getting away” with it…” YES! This is where I am…I just wish he would wake up a changed man. I wrestle right now with staying or going. I have 2 kids…I just don’t know. Watched the TED talk. SO good. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Unfaithful: FBOW I know how you feel, it is a hard road to be on. Don’t feel pressure to decide. I did that in the early stages and once I gave myself permission to wait and see I felt quite a a bit better about having to go through this process. He won’t wake up a changed man sadly, but he could wake up each day and have insight into who he is and why he decided on such a despicable course. Does he have remorse? Is he willing to do what it takes to repair your marriage and restore your trust with no guarantee you will stay? Those are the defining questions I had in the early stages. I am still only about five months from D day, I still struggle, cry, have bad days but I also have days where it is not my focus, where I can find happiness. Good luck and reach out whenever you have a need, there are good people on here with loads of advice and uplifting words

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