Sunday, March 13, 2011

Does Infidelity Breed Contempt?

My husband and I met with a marriage counsellor last week.
She listened to the story – his, mine, ours. And then she said something thought-provoking. Sure, she said, there's been a lot of pain and disappointment but she believes we'll be okay. Why? There's no "contempt" in our marriage.
She's right. Now.
But it wasn't always a contempt-free relationship.
And that awareness humbled me.
Because long before I knew of any infidelity, I can remember looking at my husband with contempt. In fact, I specifically recall one awful moment when we were out with a group of people and my husband said something I considered unfunny. Or dumb. And this is the thought that went through my head.
I can't believe I agreed to spend the rest of my life with this asshole. 
Not exactly a moment I'm proud of. But that's how contemptuous I felt. I thought he was lucky to be married to me.
Lucky to be married to someone who thought he was an asshole.
Thing is, at that point in our marriage, he was an asshole. He was deep into his affairs, encounters, lies, deceit. He had little time for me or our growing family (kinda hard to believe our family was growing, given the atmosphere of barely disguised contempt...but that's the power of hormones).
I offer up this unflattering portrait of my marriage to show you that, if we can somehow salvage our marriage, then anyone can. (Not everyone should, mind you. If there's abuse of any sort, save yourself and your children. Some marriages aren't meant to survive.)
And how surprising to realize that, four years after discovering my husband's infidelity, I like him more than I did before I knew.
I've always been cynical about reports I've read that proclaimed "my husband's affair was the best thing that happened to me", or accounts of how a marriage is far better than it ever was. Of course it is, I would scoff. He's not sleeping with other women anymore. Hard for it to get worse than it was.
But here I am. Poster girl for how my marriage – post-affair – is better than before.
That's not to say I recommend infidelity as the route to a better marriage. I would suggest the more conventional routes first – counselling, date nights, blah blah blah.
It is to say that an affair (or dozens!) isn't necessarily the death knell for your marriage. If you both want the marriage and are willing to do the hard work of slogging through the detritus of betrayal, it's possible to find yourself in a marriage that makes you forget you ever felt contempt for your spouse.
Contempt? you wonder, when a counsellor suggests it? Not at all. At least...not any more.


  1. For my marriage it has.
    Once I looked upon my husbands body and was attracted to what I saw. Cared for what I could see. Loved his personality. Wished I could be more like him (spew)
    Now I look and only see a gross lying face, his face actually looks different to me now. Ugliness of character. I've become painfully aware of so many small annoying traits that irritate me throughout the day. The same things I once thought attractive now the opposite. I think awful things much like "I can't believe I agreed to spend the rest of my life with this asshole" and worse...
    Strangely with the true withdrawal of my affections and love he has become attentive to me, sorry for the pain he has coursed and actually sometimes sounds sincere when he says loving things and talks about how much he needs me and wants to work things out.
    Why could he not have done that a year ago instead of becoming vicious, cruel and nasty after being caught out?
    He stamped my love out and coursed what feels like irreversible pain and certainly huge amounts of damage to what was or I guess could have been such a great marriage.

    1. I could of wrote this, it has been my experience as well. It has drawn me into a maze of questions that have no easy answers. One question only evokes another. Who is this person? Did I ever really know him? Or did I just project all these qualities upon him that he never really pocessed? You read the crap that says "they arent in thier right minds and the adultery is like a drug they have to withdrawl from (to explain thier viciousness nastiness cruelty when caught) yada yada yada... If you go seeking answers.... they are endless. Pick the one that fits best? After awhile they all seem like excuses, and now its in your lap. These individuals capable of something you couldnt find yourself doing. Anne Becht and her ad nauseam "Don't think you couldnt have committed adultery, your not better than your spouse" I could not do it, not because I think I am better, but because I wouldnt be able to stomach my own company for the low I had sunk to. Ahhh wait a minute! That is why you should take pity on them! Just look how awful they must feel about themselves... It is a pile of shit no matter how you shovel it. And the faithful is the one that has all the work to do, whether you stay or leave. Can you even know whether or not thier apology is even genuine or are they just working to lull you back to that complacent place where you trusted them completely. That same place it was so easy for them to cheat. This does stamp out your love and now you are supposed to find some new or unoticed redeemable qualities to love about them?

    2. There's certainly no one-size-fits-all post-affair marriage. Some are simply too damaged by the infidelity to recover. And that's okay. You're absolutely entitled to leave on the basis of infidelity (or for any reason...but infidelity certainly is a good reason to leave). I write this blog because, in some ways, it's harder to stay and make a marriage work. Society seems to champion the women who leave with a "kick him to the curb" attitude. And frankly, that was my attitude too before I found out. And I'm not saying that leaving is easy...nothing about dissolving a marriage is easy. But there's more support for leaving than staying, I think.
      Whatever you decide to do is really no-one's decision or business but your own. I don't know how long it has been since you found out or if you're separated or still together -- but it can take a long time before you can see clearly enough through the rage and pain and confusion to even make a decision you'll be happy with.
      There is no right or wrong response to this. And when you (like me) believe you simply couldn't have cheated, it's really hard to accept that you're with someone who simply doesn't share the same strength of character. It can feel like "slumming".
      However, I'm trying really hard to remove judgement (this is where meditation has really helped me) and not see myself as "better" or "worse" than anyone. We're all making choices based on all sorts of things -- brain chemistry, family of origin, culture...
      Hang in there. And thanks for posting. You've made some really good points that many of us have experienced.



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