After the Affair: Avoiding Even the Appearance of Past Behavior

I listen to a lot of talk radio during my commute on my XM/Sirius radio.  I frequently listen to the radio shrinks who deal with relationships (Dr. Laura, Dr. Jenn, Dr. Joy Browne), and some who aren’t even qualified to do so but do so anyway (Tiffany Granath!!  You’re funny, hon, but you’re not the sharpest tool in the drawer! You shouldn’t be dispensing relationship advice given your history, but I listen anyway because it’s entertaining!).

And sometimes calls are about affairs.  And sometimes I hear something that strikes me between the eyes on the topic.  Yesterday was one of those days.

A couple called up where the wife had an affair 3 1/2 years ago, but the husband was struggling still and throwing it in her face whenever they had fights.  And the “trigger” for him was that he felt that, although his wife wasn’t having an affair any longer, that her behavior (on facebook, and how she dressed, and dealt with men in real life) was inappropriate.  And they had fights.  He would accuse of her of flirting.  She would, understandably, get defensive and yell that she’s not doing anything wrong and when was he going to get over something that occurred almost 4 years ago?  They were at an impasse.

So this shrink gave some great advice that gave me pause.  She told the wife basically this — Even if you aren’t doing anything wrong, to give even the appearance that you are continuing with previous behaviors — flirting, seeking male attention by dressing provocatively, being overly nice to men on Facebook — is making your husband not feel safe.  That you’re reminding him of what you did.  That it makes him feel that you MIGHT do it again.  Even if you don’t, you’re making him very uneasy.  And by making him uneasy, he can’t fully forgive you and get past this.  You need to do all you can to make him feel safe again.  And you need to be sensitive to the devastation your behavior caused, and go out of your way to not repeat this behavior, even if it’s all innocent.  You have to stop “shining up your ego” by seeking the attention and affirmation of other men. It’s hurting your husband.

That’s exactly right.  However, I would give this as an extension of this thought.  You SHOULD change your behavior significantly to make your spouse feel safe again. It’s important.  However, this can be taken too far.  This is where the shrink failed, albeit in a less than 10 minute phone call.  I think that TOO many controls and restrictions by a betrayed spouse can breed resentment in the former cheater.  That some demands that a betrayed spouse asks of a former cheater can be a bit over the top and a bit ridiculous.  That you need to make sure that you’re not putting them on too short of a leash indefinitely. That most will eventually rebel because they resent it.  Over time, true trust must be given again.  You can definitely overdue demands in such a way that you drive the former cheating spouse out the door anyway.

BUT that being said, the shrink was right.  It’s not enough to no longer be cheating.  It’s not enough to just go into a defensive ball when confronted with a questionable post to a member of the opposite sex on Facebook or the touch of an arm at a cocktail party.  You have to understand what you’ve done. You’ve devastated your spouse’s self-esteem and security.  Your behavior must be more than merely avoiding inappropriate “actions” and “intent.”  It has to be in “appearance” as well. It’s more than apologizing and asking forgiveness. It’s more than just bringing them flowers.  All important things but not enough.  You just can’t do things that make your spouse think that nothing has really changed. That you might do this again.

I am guilty of this.  I saw it yesterday directly in this radio call. I was glad I was alone.  I literally blanched listening to it.  I’ve changed — but perhaps not enough.  We’ve had fights over Facebook and the way I deal with “fans” at my shows (I’m a musician).  I have sworn that I’ve done nothing wrong. ALL TRUE.    And it’s led to fights.  I feel the weight of judgment and accusation, and she’s telling me her fears!

I feel like when I’m accused of things like this it’s just her way of reminding me that I’m still not trusted or to shame me over my past behavior.  I’m not 100% wrong, but I’m not recognizing how  I contributed to her insecurity with behavior that at least appears questionable.  That’s on me. I need to be better about that.

I’ve done many things to help my marital recovery and to show my wife I love her. But it’s not enough.  A rabbi is not to be seen walking into a deli on Saturdays — even if he purchases nothing.  It tends to give an appearance to the congregation that undermines his authority and character.

We are no different.

Avoid the appearance.   It’s a must if you want your marriage to recover.  Yes, it does take time. Patience.  And maybe it will never recover.  And yes, sometimes you have to swallow your pride and check your impulses to strike back.  But if you want any chance at all at building a better marriage, you have to try.

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17 thoughts on “After the Affair: Avoiding Even the Appearance of Past Behavior

  1. This is so true, I’ve seen these dynamics play out. For a marriage to move toward healing, it is critical that the person who cheated do all within his/her power to avoid the very appearance of past behavior and it is also critical for the betrayed spouse to come to a point of balance concerning this issue and not be overly demanding because that tends to undermine the healing process……..Have you ever thought of writing a book? I truly believe it would be a great tool to help many people wade through the affair issue…….until then, as situations arise, I’ll continue referring persons to your blog………:)…..blessings!…Kim

    • thanks! I’m glad the post spoke to you.

      A book? nah. Too many have already been written on the subject. I have little new to contribute. The topic has been covered to death. Many many great books out there by people actually qualified to write them. I’m glad however in my own little blog-world that I can provide useful feedback to some. That makes me happy.

      • I respect your position and it is true that there are many great books out there on the subject. Remember though that no matter how many books are written on a subject, each one is new in that no one can replicate the unique worldview, personality and experiences that comes with a writer’s expression. Again, I respect your position, it’s just that I’m an avid reader and have a background in counseling psychology and have dealt with couples who have had to walk this path and I just see something in your writing that really genuinely connects with the issue in a candid, balanced, and powerful way.

      • Yes I agree!……we do need a MAN out there talking about this stuff, not many do and it is so powerful, refreshing and impacting when a MAN openly shares in this way….:) But seriously,if you express yourself verbally as well as you do when writing, I believe such a show would be a a great success and extremely helpful to others in many ways……who knows what the future holds…:)

      • ……:)….sounds like the perfect formula for a successful show……:)….but seriously, however you do it, keep sharing your knowledge and your story because it is making a difference and is appreciated.

  2. Really enjoyed your post and your thoughts on the subject. I too listen to XM talk, while driving, and even at home, when I’m working. My favorite is Dr.Jenn, but I need to find the others you mentioned and listen, bc I do learn a lot when I listen to her give advice to others.

    Anyway…I totally agree with what you said. It seems that the line is so fine, between being an open book and accepting that your actions have caused your spouse’s insecurity and lack of trust, and between the spouse never letting go enough to begin to heal on their own….or to even allow for the trust to begin to be rebuilt.

    I am not saying that any feelings that anyone who has been in this situation has, are wrong…who am I to judge what another should feel or how they should act? But, I have seen situations where while the betrayed spouse chose to stay and work on the marriage and the wayward spouse opened their life up completely and willingly in an attempt to repair the marriage, the betrayed spouse just CAN NOT LET GO.

    He keeps badgering her and attacking her and storming out….weekly. And this couple is family to me, and I love them both….but I do feel like at this point, if he is going to stay and try to work on the marriage, he needs to stop throwing it in her face every single time it crosses his mind. And not that there is a huge difference, but this was a very, very short term emotional affair that the wayward spouse realized was crossing the line and ended before it got worse. She knew it was wrong, and realized that the issues in their own marriage were causing her to look elsewhere for validation and comfort. Again, this doesn’t excuse her actions, but I feel like I am watching my family member destroy his own marriage by choosing to stay in the marriage, yet refusing to even TRY to allow her to redeem herself. I need to direct him to your blog, but he is so obsessed with the entire situation that I am afraid he will just read and then decide that his wife is even worse. Sigh.

    I guess this is why they say it is SO hard to repair a marriage after infidelity. It is hard for both partners in different ways, and I have to believe that just because one partner strayed, doesn’t mean he or she deserves a lifetime of punishment, blame and anger. In those cases, it causes me to believe that if it is going to be the norm, then why stay together at all? I do believe that while one may never FORGET, at some point, FORGIVENESS has to happen, or it lessens the chances for a healthy recovery and a healthy and fulfilling marriage.

    Anyway…I really enjoy reading your blog. I read from a few different angles and perspectives, but I am still always learning, which helps all the way around. 🙂

    • I too have known betrayed spouses like this. I still see some of blogs here too. They give lip service to “saving” their marriages,but their blogs reek of punishment and rage and not a thought to forgiveness and healing, even if they occasionally say the right things. And they have legions of like minded betrayed spouses to cheer them on.

      There is an allure to being the victim in this case — it’s power in the relationship. It feels like “justice”, despite the fact that two wrongs never make a right. Being the victim also gains you sympathy, on line and in real life, which feels good. And yes, as long as you are the victim, you never have to look in the mirror and really be honest about your part in a marriage so poor that your spouse went to find affirmation, affection and solace elsewhere. It’s a nice dodge from taking any responsibility in the mess.

      And frankly it’s easier too isn’t it? Forgiving, healing, and completely remaking your marriage is hard work without a guarantee of success. As long as you stay on the offensive against your Wayward Spouse, you’ll never be vulnerable to your former cheating spouse again and it’s not much work. You get to divorce and then complain about how you dumped your cheating spouse. You’ll look like a hero to some. This is in reality the easier course, although not necessarily the right one.

      I get it. It’s sad, but I see it all the time. Some of them even cheering when they’ve divorced. All very sad.

      Why your woman-friend stays, I have no idea. I certainly HAD to take some abuse from my wife at least for a while. I did an awful thing. But I would never have let myself be a human punching bag forever. And I think she knew it. Our goal was reconciling, forgiving and moving on. You can’t heal and pursue recompense at the same time. Your friend must tolerate this behavior only because she has no other real options or she’s really self-loathing. His constant assault on her will tend to beat down your self-esteem. I hope she regains her self-esteem and demand real progress on healing and reconciliation, or walks out the door.

      And yes, sometimes based on the most minor of affairs you can imagine – in one case, a couple of weeks of emails. Is this enough to break up your family over?

      Had a female friend like yours. She got caught. Husband initially agreed to forgive, but wouldn’t let go. He would never take any responsibility for his actions and their marriage. In the end, they divorced. But to be fair, she is actually happier. She tried to fix things, but now she’s happier being without him. He quickly married someone else. As she says, now he’s someone else’s problem.

      Sad, but all too common. Personal pride gets in the way of so many things in life. It’s always been my hope that my blog would help some of these people out. In some cases, it has. In others? Well, I try, but there are too many BS’s fully invested in being the victim and don’t wish any help, and will attack for even daring to speak up for people like me and for forgiveness and reconciliation. So be it.

      ALSO: One more thing. Tiffany Granath is on afternoons on Playboy channel. I wouldn’t recommend her. And it’s not really a call in show. Sometimes she takes calls, and other times she just babbles about her life for an hour. Dr. Laura has been on the radio for decades and is on the “Stars” channel — afternoons 3-6 est (repeats at other times). Dr. Jenn’s show USED to be repeated early in the morning, but now it’s only the first hour. I don’t hear her show as often. Dr. Joy Browne is on regular radio, but not where I am locally. I usually playback her podcasts on my phone, plugged into my car – using the “Tune-in Radio” free app. All of them are different, but I think I agree with all of them 80-90% of the time too.

      Good luck. I hope you read more here and contribute more too. Want to hear more about your story.

      • I think sometimes anger functions as a sort of shield. It is easier to express anger (being a secondary emotion) than it is to express pain, hurt, fear or insecurity. Expressing those things after an affair makes you feel weak and vulnerable. It makes you feel open to being betrayed again.

        You are very right. It is a fine line between more honesty, more openness and at the same time restoring trust. While we work to move forward, we have also reset our boundaries. I always assumed his were the same as mine, but they were much, much laxer. He is digging through the trauma of childhood abuse, and dealing with issues that helped create the lack of boundaries. Hard work. It’s what tells me he is serious about fixing all of this. While I do get angry at times, I also know it’s not fair to be angry with someone who is so genuinely, so obviously trying…SO hard. I see a lot of that on the various blogs too. People are hurting and venting. After blowing off steam, most seem to return to rational thought, LOL. I have worked with my therapist to let some of these emotions roll over me and subside like a wave.

        Our situation too, has been challenging because of the continued bunny boiler crazy attempts. So often when I get a “good grip” on the healing process, I get knocked back a step. Still trying to not let the crazy woman impede my progress. Sounds like your wife is ahead of me on that! Does she have any tips?

      • I wouldn’t presume to speak for my wife. I have no idea what she would say in response. Maybe it’s not been as easy as she sometimes makes it appear. She’s always kept reconciliation as the goal instead of punishment. And I think she knows instinctively that throwing the affair in my face, or blowing up at me over it unexpectedly, will not further that goal, but will in fact retard it. But how she would answer it specifically? I have no idea. She’s a very balanced person and personality. She’s not one for high drama and inappropriate displays of emotion. That helps too. Honestly we don’t talk about the affair much any more.

        And as you know, we still have to deal with contact attempts from the crazy ex-OW. it doesn’t help, I agree. It keeps her in our lives in a way we don’t wish.

      • “keeps her in our lives”, yes that’s a good way to put it. Most people get to totally move on after an affair. They don’t have to deal with harassment, and telling their kids what to do if the crazy lady approaches them etc. You guys are further along in the process than we are. I am finally at a point where when we do discuss it, I can have a rational conversation. I didn’t mean to pry or ask you to speak for your wife, I thought maybe she had shared how she manages to keep the affair at arms’ length and deal with the intrusions in a positive, forward-moving way. As always, I appreciate your insights into all of this. Really, a great post!

      • I don’t think you’re prying at all. Honestly, I could only guess at what she would say and I’m sure it would be incomplete at best. I just don’t want to speak for her, that’s all.

        I know she thinks more about the ex-OW than she lets on. Probably more than I do, to be honest. But I think she learned that expressing every thought and emotion she has about the whole sorry situation was not serving our goal of reconciling or herself. Many thoughts are left best to ourselves. I’ve done the same. I have not expressed every thought I have about the affair, the ex-OW, our marriage — because it could be hurtful and turn the clock back.

        I think she too realizes that ex-OW was not the cause of our problems, but the symptom, and focusing on the symptom, while alluring, doesn’t really help. Know what I mean?

        I’m sure you will get there. I never mind your input and if I didn’t want to answer a question, I wouldn’t. Like if someone said, hey, post a picture of your wife and your ex-OW – I wouldn’t do it.

        Anyway, I’m always glad to see your comments here.

  3. “I feel the weight of judgment and accusation, and she’s telling me her fears!” <————THAT is the line that really caught my eye. I have to remember to play the role of listener and maybe a bit of the detective to find out 'what is my wife REALLY sharing with me? What feeling is she really trying to convey? In the example you used, it sounded like she was saying, "I am afraid……I don't want 'it' to happen again….please help reduce my feeling of panic here." So, I would see if that was really what she meant (by asking her) and if that's it then I make a change that helps her feel less afraid and more confident in the marriage. I just don't have the need to be 'right' like I used to. My desire is for us to be happy & for our marriage to be strong. These are tough lessons we learn and a lifetime is not e nough time to master them. Fortunately, all my wife really needs to see is my honest effort.

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