Can We Believe Again? Part 3: Maintaining Status Quo

Can We Believe Again? Part 3: Maintaining Status Quo

During his affair, when faced with hard questions about his relationship with the AP, my husband lied. Every. Single. Time. After D-day when I asked him about that, he acknowledged he feared if he ever admitted the truth he would lose me, so he resigned to take the truth to his grave. When I asked how he could lie to my face during all those years even after the affair ended, his explanation was pretty simple. He said he knew if he played dumb and consistently denied everything, the conversation would end and we could go back to “normal” relatively quickly. In his mind, that meant very little disruption to our life. However, he definitely wasn’t thinking about why I kept asking those questions all those years, and what kind of turmoil I was in to continue to bring it up. He was just thinking about saving himself, preserving the marriage, and getting back to “normal” as soon as possible.

During those years, it felt to me as though he was protecting his alliance with his affair partner, and that was why he wouldn’t tell me the truth. It said to me that he prioritized his AP over me. He now understands why I felt this way, but said it was not like that at all. He was just protecting himself and did not want to face any disruption to our relationship. He just wanted things to be “normal.”

None of these explanations make any of his actions ok. At all. But it does help me understand, to the extent that is possible from my side of the street. I still struggle with the intentionality and meaning behind the affair and all the manipulation involved, but these perspectives are helpful for me to better understand his motivations at the time, which he describes as far less calculated than they felt. In no way am I suggesting anyone give their partner a pass for these actions. But in the process of trying to foster empathy, to better understand an unfaithful partner, and potentially building trust and repairing the marriage, these insights have been helpful. It doesn’t come easily, but over time I have seen many similar examples in others’ stories that help soften my cynicism and replace some of my doubts with curiosity.

False Reassurance
There have been times during our recovery when my husband has “reassured” me of something, and it has really hit me the wrong way. Things he said that on the surface should have provided comfort, but actually made me more anxious. At first I couldn’t figure out why, but I had a strong physical reaction to these reassurances.

My very wise counselor explained to me these are because of his previous false reassurances-. What does that mean? Here’s an example. During his affair, I would question my husband about the affair partner and his relationship with her. I was very direct about my suspicions that they were having an affair. She was his boss, so I knew he spent time with her every day at work, but he would often complain about her in a variety of ways, and tell me flat out that he did not find her attractive and he would never be interested in her. And yet…he was simultaneously carrying on an affair with her. He often went into detail about many of their day to day conversations and interactions as though he was being transparent with me. All of that was to normalize their relationship to make me feel “safer” and let down my guard, when in fact it was just smoke and mirrors - manipulation to throw me off track about what was really going on, to stop all of my questions. So now, after D-day, if I am feeling unsettled about a female coworker, for example, statements about her unattractiveness, his disinterest, or “you don’t need to worry” don’t feel comforting like they should. I’ve heard it all before, and they were lies. So, those kinds of “reassurances” don't feel reassuring now. Those same words were used to deceive my fragile heart that wanted so desperately to believe him, and now they just make me very anxious.

There are never any guarantees in life, but at this point I don’t truly fear he would cheat on me again. However, I have found that connecting my brain with my gut is a tricky business, and it can be slow to get the message. So while my logical brain does not believe he would betray me again or would even desire to do so, my emotional response is often fearful and guarded. After all, I never thought he would do it in the first place. As a result, these “reassurances” just don’t feel very reassuring.

The skepticism is normal, understandable, and healthy as a person who has been betrayed. Trying to forcefully override those feelings has not been helpful or effective - I’ve tried. It may be hard for the unfaithful partner to understand, as he or she knows if they are now being truthful, but from the betrayed spouse perspective, you only know by what you see, and that takes a lot of repetitive trustworthy behavior. Trust is shattered in a moment, but takes diligence and time to restore.

The unfortunate reality is that when you cry wolf too many times, no one will believe you. That’s just how it goes. It’s not my fault that I don’t blindly believe words that were previously used to deceive me. That is just me protecting myself. The problem is, my hard earned defenses smash up against his genuine commitment to the truth in our current relationship. That is hard on both of us, but it helps to understand how we got here, and that my hesitance isn’t coming from stubbornness. My gut is just doing its job to keep me safe, so when it hears things that ring familiar to those that were disingenuously used against me, it says, “Nice try, but we’re not falling for that again.” It’s not a personal judgment against my husband. I believe he has been completely truthful since D-day, and I also know it must be exasperating for him when I don’t - or can’t - believe something he tells me. I am now starting to be able to separate my husband’s intentions from the impact it had on me. I viewed intention and impact as intertwined, assuming he intended to hurt me and made his decisions with that in mind. He obviously knew it was wrong, but had no idea how it would impact me because he never made the effort to think about it.

If you were the unfaithful spouse, please know that we really do want to believe you. We just might not be able to... yet. As frustrating as it might feel to you, please keep being honest and open, and with time and healing, it is possible for trust to be restored. It is not an easy process, and the deeper the deception, the harder it will be, but it is worth the effort if you want a chance at restoration of your marriage.

“The weight of the things that remained unspoken, built up so much it crushed us everyday." ~Maroon 5

Can We Believe Again? Part 1: Crying Wolf

Can We Believe Again? Part 2: Reinforced Walls

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the third Jen posting

Hi Jen. I waited to comment until I read the third instalment. You have amazing compassion and stamina to be seeing this thru like you are. Your writing should be helpful to those people still in a relationship, where there is some chance of it going forward. I can't help but think that every time your husband got together with the AP, and all of the decisions he made leading up to those times, and all the discussions you had with him about your suspicions, all of that reflected conscious decisions he made to betray you. None of it was accidental -- it was all intentional. You have a level of dignity and acceptance that is admirable to still believe this is a person you can be intimate with again. Do you ever find yourself asking, "nevermind the Past, what do I, Jen deserve right now? What level of Trust that I, Jen put out there can ever be returned to me by this person?"

Hi Raphael :)

I appreciate your thoughts and your kind words.

You are not wrong in that every decision was intentional, but maybe not always for the reasons it would seem. Sometimes, yes, of course it was exactly what it seemed. But one of the things that has taken me a lot of work to understand is how much of the actions and deception was done with very little thought to the reality of overarching picture (or the real damage it was doing). It was one lie at a time, usually to deflect from a difficult conversation or a consequence, and then quickly focus on something else.

Was manipulating me? Yes. But not the way I had envisioned it - as part of a well architected plan. In reality he was winging it. In my situation my husband wasn't looking to leave the marriage, and his affair was a (long) series of encounters with no real plan. There were times of more calculated deception, but for the most part it was a day by day somewhat haphazard unfolding of events. So the deception was often something he fielded in the moment - he did whatever he was going to do with his AP, lied to me if I asked questions, and then moved on to "normal" life stuff. It was incredible to me to hear how little thought he put into it. I'm not sure if that is good or bad but it is what it is. Regardless, he is fully responsible for his actions whether he planned them in advance or not, and there is no excuse or justification, but it has been helpful for me to understand his mindset at the time. And for people reading thinking that all sounds like a load of nonsense - I hear you. I felt the same way at first.

As for your question - how can I trust him now? That's a great question and every person's answer and situation is unique. Not everyone is trustworthy so it is not always possible.

Some people might think I'm a total idiot for staying or for trusting him again, and I can totally understand that. For me, I definitely never thought I would. I never thought I would see him as anything other than the dangerous person who betrayed me. When I first joined AR, I heard about people who reconciled and assumed they just resigned themselves to live miserable lives. I never thought I could be happy again. I was very cynical. But I can tell you I can trust him now because I have seen who he really is by what he has been willing to do through all of this. I would definitely never ask to go through this, but it stripped us both down to the core of who we are, and while it was really hard and painful, we are now in a place I never thought I would be - even before the infidelity. I would not have been able to confidently say that even a year ago but it is a continual process. I know that is not everyone's experience and many don't even have the option to try. It's not perfect but we continue to work on it and I can say there is a lot of hope for a meaningful and peaceful life after infidelity.

I know that was a long response but I wanted to fully address your comment. I hope you are doing well and always appreciate hearing from you.

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