Wednesday, April 30, 2014
His Cheating Can't Be Your Trump Card
Even marriages that haven't been marked by infidelity face their share of challenges.
Even those people can be guilty of dredging up past transgressions to shame or guilt or otherwise manipulate their partner into better behaviour.
But for those of us who've survived betrayal, our spouse's cheating can feel like something of a trump card.
No matter what WE might have done – told a friend something about our spouse we shouldn't have, overridden him when he tied to discipline the kids, secretly applied for a credit card that we then racked up to quadruple digits – it's never as bad as what HE did.
In other words, we can sometimes use his massive betrayal to minimize our own.
Which might, in the short term, kinda get us off the hook. But certainly does nothing to help us rebuild a marriage based on honesty and respect and consideration.
Thing is, betrayal does loom large, at least at first. It seeps into every interaction, every altercation, every assumption.
Perhaps you're having a garden variety argument about how maybe, just maybe he could help out a bit more around the house, like do the dishes now and again, or take the kids to swimming lessons for a change, or... And then he says, "I do plenty around here. You just don't see how much I do." To which you reply, "You're damn right you do plenty. And you're damn right I didn't see it." At which point, you either fling a cellphone at him or dissolve into tears or storm out of the room.
Or his lateness becomes a huge issue because "what if... no, he wouldn't....but what if he is?!" So by the time he walks in the door ten minutes late muttering about the "damn train", you've mentally filed divorce papers and are shaking with anger and fear.
Overhearing him tell his mother that he can't visit her this weekend because he's busy when you know he's got nothing planned becomes huge because "he's dishonest about everything. Can the man even say One Single Thing that's not a total lie? What am I even doing with this idiot?"
See what I mean?
There are times when our spouse's cheating should absolutely be on the table for discussion. His lateness might be (probably is!) a huge trigger for you and needs to be addressed. His little white lies might be a pattern of dishonesty that allowed him to deceive with ease. So bring it up. Make it a goal to introduce radical honesty into your lives (which goes for you, too -- no more, "I'm fine" passive-aggressiveness). And division of labor is an issue in every single marriage I know, and the fact that so many of us were up to our eyeballs in diapers and Lego while our husbands were the ones doing the playing just ramps up our anger.
It will take a Herculean effort to bite your tongue when it's so tempting to toss his cheating in his face. And so much in the days following D-Day feels like more effort than you can -- than you should have to! – muster.
But I speak from experience. I played my trump card often. And, frankly, I never felt better. There was a momentary "so there asshole!" feeling of triumph. But it vanished quickly, leaving my husband locked in self-loathing, and no longer able to hear a word I was saying over the sound of his own internal shaming. And it left me feeling weak and defeated. Lose-lose.
If your goal is to rebuild your marriage, then you need to be able to address issues apart from his infidelity. Using his cheating as your trump card is the marital equivalent to throwing a match on a pile of dried tinder.
It might shut him up or shut him down...but there won't be much left worth saving.