The Wayward’s Work Is Not Yours to Own

One of the hardest lessons to grasp in the journey towards healing from betrayal is realizing your inability to control the path your wayward mate takes. This is particularly counterintuitive for those of us who have dedicated our lives to growing relationships and a family. We have invested our time and energy in paving the way for our loved ones to succeed and be happy. We have cared as deeply for our partner and family as we have for ourselves. Our life has revolved around their safety and growth.

We must be careful not to burn out or overextend ourselves in the service of others and to take good care of ourselves. This is a reality we may not like. However, denial of that reality will not change it, no matter how ardently we wish things to be different. We need to respect our limits to remain healthy. The desire to overextend, however, is very normal when those we love are struggling.

This truth suggests the brilliant work of Dr. Robert Weiss in his seminal book, Prodependence. As he defines it:

“Prodependence is an attachment-based theory of human dependency which, by definition, states that those who partner with an active addict are loving people who may be caught in circumstances beyond their ability to healthfully cope. Moreover, their desire to help the addict and all related actions toward helping the addict demonstrate nothing more than a normal and healthy attempt to remain connected to a failing loved one while facing extraordinarily difficult circumstances.”

He advises that looking at addiction not from a trauma perspective, but from an attachment perspective, illuminates the dark road of betrayal grief. Instead of viewing the loved ones of addicts as the inevitable victims of a traumatic past that has caught up with them and is now repeating itself in their adult lives—"prodependence views them as brave individuals struggling to love another person even in the face of the behavioral choice they have made. With prodependence, there is no shame or blame, no sense of being wrong, no language that pathologizes the caregiving loved one. Instead, there is recognition for effort given, plus hope and valuable instruction for healing."

We, the betrayed, are suffering from possibly the most significant trauma inflicted upon us in our lives. In an instant, with the discovery of betrayal, our history is turned upside down, and our file cabinet of personal past is knocked over, spilling the entire contents across the floor in willy-nilly disarray. What we thought of as the closest, perhaps safest relationship in our life has now become the source of our greatest grief and fear. The attachment rupture is enormous.

I remember the long nights, riddled with deep, lonely grief following my husband’s decision to drop the fifty-megaton bomb and admit to his long affair. I looked up at the stars hoping to hear the voice of my departed mother and dad or maybe my wise old grandmother offering advice. What to do, where to start, how to dig my way out of this mess I never imagined, asked for, or created. Where do I begin? Who am I, if not the person I thought of as “wife?”

And who is this man who has acted as though he was a faithful spouse for years?

What spouse would not be looked upon as valiant if she cut back on volunteer activities, took on a second job, looked drawn and exhausted, all-in support of a spouse that had cancer, Parkinson’s or dementia? Why should there be any less empathy and understanding extended to a partner whose entire life history and security have just blown up via the discovery of a spouse’s betrayal? Why wouldn’t she grasp for any help, any life preserver in the tempest of her now topsy-turvy life? She would naturally look for help for her unsound and disordered partner. How can she help him heal so he might return to be her trusted partner in life?

Deep down inside, she wonders if he will ever be safe again.

She signed up to be a life partner in sickness and health. In this life-shattering betrayal, she longs for the old days of attachment and ‘love.’

Much like her inability to heal the wounds suffered by her spouse from a serious car accident, she is likewise powerless to do the deep emotional healing work she faces to understand what led him to betray all he swore to love and protect. She cannot make the discoveries of his own life’s traumas, the delusion-driven choices he has made, nor can she repair the damage he has left in his wake. That and more are his work to do.

How painful this realization can be. No amount of wishing, hoping, providing healing resources, or explaining her grief to him will build the framework of a healthier life for him. He must be willing. He has to be consistent, determined and committed to walking the long, difficult path toward healing. She cannot give him the gift of willingness.

Oh, the wrenching pain of this reality. The sadness. The helplessness.

Those who deny this reality sentence themselves to disillusionment, disappointment, resentment and needless angry drama.

The answer lies in the ability to choose to care for yourself and tend to the deep wounds suffered. This is similar to the in-flight instruction to put on one’s oxygen mask before attending to anyone else.

It’s not that betrayal is not a huge problem. It is. But it is not the central problem. Surviving and moving back into yourself is paramount before any wise and careful decisions can be made on how to proceed.

What may have seemed central to your life, the care of others, must now take a back seat. If a praying person, pray for his willingness and heart change as if he were undergoing open heart surgery and recovery. Pray. Try to influence his decisions if he is open to listening, but at the end of the day, he must choose and walk the difficult path of change.

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I couldn’t agree more with your statement. Self care wasn’t a priority for many years. Now, it’s imperative that I do take time for myself. The past is past. I can and am going forward. I’m much happier knowing that there won’t be unwanted surprises when I return home. I wasn’t aware that I was dreading driving into the driveway and parking in the garage. Sometimes, I would sit in the car questioning why I didn’t want to enter the house. I know now that I was in a state of constant fear of what I was going to be walking into.
No longer. Whatever state I left the house in, I began to feel more comfortable walking in instead of dreading coming in and jokingly saying to myself that the cleaning fairy hadn’t emptied the dishwasher or vacuumed the floors.
Happier, calmer and having a feeling of peace makes it easier to breathe deeply and know that I made the choice of saving myself.

"I made the choice of saving

"I made the choice of saving myself". Such a wise and difficult decision. You are an amazingly strong person!

Always remember: you are enough

This article is so very true to every last word. It’s already exhausting and extremely painful to go through the emotional turmoil caused by the selfish and mean choices of an unfaithful spouse. The lies and deception leave a trail of destruction behind. What’s real and what’s not is so much intertwined in our memories that it’s not possible to identify. Sitting in parking in my car, trying to just go home and open the door was such a painful task. Questioning our own self for the devious choices our mate has made is so very natural and normal initially. Yet, slowly and painfully realising that we are not responsible for the choices a person make’s. YOU ARE NOT, YOU WERE NOT, YOU NEVER WILL BE responsible for anyone to cheat on you. REMEMBER THIS ALWAYS. They made their own choice to deceive you, kid’s, family,relatives and friends and everyone around them including themselves.

Such hard won wisdom, RJB.

Such hard won wisdom, RJB. What a difficult life lesson to learn and in the most painful of circumstances. Out of great pain can come great revelation.

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-D, Texas