“But, I just can’t get over the fact that he lied to me! He’s having an affair and he’s lying about it!”
I have heard this statement so many times over the last few months with clients and friends. The pain of infidelity is stunning. Don’t you think? I do not consider myself to be a psychologist, counselor, or therapist. I don’t prescribe; I don’t diagnose; I don’t cure or fix and I stress that to my clients. I listen. I listen to them and pay witness to their stories and then I ask questions to help them uncover their own answers. And when there is a repetitive theme in the stories that are showing up in front of me, I really pay attention.
I’ve been curious about the fact that my world has been filled with people nursing broken hearts that have been torn open by infidelity. Just this week alone, I’ve sat in front of three women who have been wounded by their partner’s affair with another, two men who have been devastated by the discovery of their partner’s affair, two women who are shielding their entire love life from others because they are feeling guilty over the affair they are in, and one man in that same position. I’ve been in awe of the parade of infidelity and given that it has been many years since I’ve been in an intimate relationship, I’ve been wondering about why the Universe is showing me these examples over and over.
My marriage lasted a short 5.5 years. During that time, he had three affairs and ended up marrying the last affair who moved into our home three days after I moved out. All along, I have said that I would have been a lot more understanding of the affairs had he been honest about them. For me, it was the ongoing dishonesty – the crazy-making experience of sensing (and even having “evidence”) that something was going on and being told that it wasn’t. For me, that was the betrayal. I could have dealt with the knowing of it, I believe, had I been able to have an open conversation about it. It wasn’t his actions – sleeping with others – that hurt me; I could deal with and understand that physiological impulse. It was what I was allowing in my life that got me turned upside down. It was that I was tolerating his lies and ignoring my truths that got me looking at how I needed to change me.
What I’ve discovered to be true in every one of the stories about infidelity, is the person has begun questioning themselves, even though it is their partner who has “strayed.” And I’ve been witness to how “that affair” becomes the reason to beat themselves up. They begin digging for information that wounds. They become fixated on tracking the “unfaithful” partner’s every action. They start questioning everything. I did this too, as a way to prove that I wasn’t going mad, that my intuition was dead-on, all while I was negotiating that intuition away. In this maddening search for truth, they, suddenly, are the ones that need to be “fixed” – not the partner perpetrating the infidelity.
This morning, an email dropped into my inbox with a TedTalk attached. The headline read: “Why infidelity doesn’t have to be the end” and as soon as I saw the word “infidelity,” I knew it was something that I needed to watch, as a means of providing support to those who have sat with me and will sit with me in the future, as well as to release the final strings of attachment to this ancient pain I am carrying.
Esther Perel is a relationship therapist who has worked with hundreds of clients around the globe over the last two decades. Her point of view on infidelity touched my heart and really opened my eyes as to why it hurts so damn much. She puts into words that which I’ve been unable to nail myself and she does it eloquently and with such finesse!
“When we seek the gaze from another,” Esther said and I felt my heart squeeze and tears fill my eyes, “it isn’t always our partner we are turning away from, but the person that we ourselves have become. And it isn’t so much that we’re looking for another person as much as we are looking for another self.”
For those of you who have experienced the pain of an “unfaithful” partner or have been the “unfaithful” one, this is for you. May you find some comfort in her words.