Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Define "Deal-Breaker"...and What to Do If He Does

I'm sure just about every one of us considered an affair a "deal-breaker". I even had a conversation with my husband when I was pregnant with my first child. I couldn't have been more clear:
Me: Having a baby is a big deal. We owe it to her to keep our marriage strong. We'll probably be tempted - maybe you already have – but let's promise each other we won't give in. And that we'll get help for our marriage if we find ourselves attracted to someone else. If our marriage can't be saved, then at least we won't have adultery to deal with.
Him: H'mmmm. [Which I interpreted as "Of course, darling! I would NEVER do that. And NEVER will.]
And, with that, I thought the matter was taken care of.
Oh, how wrong I was.

Fast forward roughly a decade and I was forced to eat my words. Well, not forced, actually. I willingly decided to sit down, pick up a knife and fork, and swallow then, word by excruciating word. And with that, I vowed that if he ever, EVER cheated on me again, it was a deal-breaker. "And I mean it this time!!!" I insisted.
And I do.
To be honest, however, if he had cheated on me again shortly after D-Day, I don't know that I would have been able to stick with my vow. Not because I didn't mean it. But simply because I was having trouble breathing. The idea of packing my bags, loading up three kids and finding somewhere to go was more than I could manage.
Which is why I think it's so important to have a plan in place – a sort of auto-pilot that you can turn to when your brain is mush and your heart is in pieces.
All the threats in the world mean nothing if you can't enforce with them consequences. So...before you start throwing those threats around, take some time to work out some meaningful boundaries and consequences.
For example, one BWC member, whose husband is a sex addict, made attending his 12-step meetings part of her non-negotiables when she opted to give him a second chance. If he doesn't attend regularly, any and all intimacy between the two of them comes to a grinding (no pun intended) stop. He moves to the guest room (or she will, if he refuses) and, after a certain period of time if he hasn't resumed his meetings, she begins the separation process. At that point, she figures, it's clear he's unwilling to hold up his end of the she has no choice but to honor her own boundaries (that he attend meetings that support his recovery) and keep herself safe.
Sure, these guys can lie. They've done it before. But we're wiser now. We know what to look out for. If, at any time, we get that uneasy feeling in our gut, we enact our new mantra: trust, but verify. He says he was late at the office? Who else was there that you can check with? Will he show you his computer with the work he was doing? Why not install a keylogger on the computer to check any Web sites, e-mails, etc.? Check his cell phone so you can see all activity. Etc. Etc.
And have your pre-determined boundaries and consequences in place.
You, for example, find out he had contact with the OW? Well, what does that mean to you? What consequences are in place?: he moves to the couch? He moves out? You contact his family? You contact her family? Ensure that they're enforceable...and that they don't create additional problems for you. And ensure that you stick with them. As Barbara Coloroso, parenting guru, is forever reminding us, it isn't the severity of the consequence, it's the inevitability. You need to stick to boundaries/consequences that you will enforce. Not to punish him but to protect yourself.
And if you can state unequivocally that certain behaviour is a deal-breaker, then that's exactly what it is.


  1. Early on after DDay, I was big on ultimatums. If you don't call OW right now and tell her it's need to get out. Since you told my dad about the A, I want you to call your sisters and tell them, too...or get out. Help me get back the money you gave OW or I'll call her dad and have him to do it and then...of can get out.
    Lots of threats. None of them idle.
    I wanted him out, but it was only because I knew that if I said our marriage was over that would be the thing that hurt him the most. Consequences be damned!
    The old me...fists up or grab a weapon. I'm gonna be sure you hurt more than me. Cutting off my nose to spite my face, I'm really prone to that.
    I have gained a bit of self-control and thoughtfulness before I react. I'm learning to step back and breath before I throw down these days. I want my marriage to heal. That's the right choice. The smart choice. Do I still have days when causing WH to grimace in pain brings me a warped kind of joy? Hate to admit it, but yes. Tiny steps.
    Hope & Hugs, Shawn

    1. Yes, I think many of us have been there. In fact, I think that's one of the things I did wrong even BEFORE I knew of my husband's infidelity. I was forever threatening to leave or suggesting that we should break up. In my own defence, it was often the only thing that actually got his attention. Wanting to talk about division of labor, our sex life, the kids just made him tune out. I'd think we'd reached agreement or compromise...but nothing ever changed. But if I suggested I was ready to leave...then he was suddenly ready to really listen. Clearly we had horrible communication in our marriage but it's very hard to have good communication with someone who simply won't listen (a skill he'd picked up in childhood with an emotionally abusive mother).
      That said, I wished I'd know then what I know now. I wish I'd had clearer boundaries and the strength to enforce my consequences when they're broken. I wish a lot of things.
      However, your advice to "step back and breathe" is incredibly wise and I think the world would do well to take it.

  2. Seven months post D-Day 1 ("but it was just phone sex!"); five months post D-Day 2 (multiple physical infidelities). Together 14 years, married 7, with a 3 yr old and a 5 month old. This blog has been invaluable.

    About 90% of the time, he's handling things well. Absorbing my anger and grief, checking in on me, trying to comply with my requests. About 10% of the time, he reacts with defensiveness, or sometimes defensive anger.

    We just had a fight about my "rules." Case study 1: He doesn't want to be required to go to therapy, or for me to be able to decide when he stops - he wants to choose to go, says he expects to go for a while, but chaffs at the idea that I will likely want him to go for longer than he will want to. I don't get it - this seems like a win-win. He can do something concrete that makes me feel safer; at the same time, he's doing something good for himself. (Even if he thoroughly evacuates and addresses the issues that led to his affairs, who couldn't benefit from more therapy?) Case Study 2: I asked him to keep track of cash expenses. He got an ap that keeps track of receipts, and is using it for everything over $10. Even with this, however, there was a $600 discrepancy between what he spent and his recorded receipts ($50) for March - which he chalks up to less than $5 purchases, babysitters, tolls, and a few receipts he forgot to record. He says he can try harder to keep track of everything, but he sees this as a test he's doomed to fail - that he'll never be able to keep track of every dollar, and that I'll hold every discrepancy against him. Case Study 3: We have a google doc where we ask each other questions and write out answers. It was originally his idea to write out questions instead of having our drawn-out talks all the time. But having the questions hanging there unanswered makes me anxious, so I asked him to commit to answering at least one a week. He says that having a formal requirement makes him not want to answer them - he'd rather there be no rule, so that any answers come from his desire to engage. Case Study 4: He works a shift with a variable ending time, and I've asked him to text after he gets out from each one. One day his phone was dead, so he didn't text - I happened to be busy, but had I tried to I wouldn't have been able to reach him, which would've left me a complete mess. When he apologized later for not texting, I freaked out about how I would've felt -

    By and large he complies with my requests, albeit reluctantly and with increasing resentment. I think he's afraid of a long-term dynamic where I make what he perceives as arbitrary rules and decisions - but I keep trying to tell him that this is what I need now to feel safe. I think he also is afraid that I will keep creating new requirements, some of which he feels doomed to fail (keeping track of all expenses, always texting after every shift).

    I get that everyone is going to have different dealbreakers - but how do you figure out which ones are appropriate / feasible? And what are the spectrum of possible consequences? Right now, I've said I will only attend as many MC sessions as he attends IC sessions - so if he misses one of the latter, I will cancel one of the former. But what kind of consequence can there be for not keeping good enough track of cash expenses, or not answering a question a week, or not texting at the right time?



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