Don't Compartmentalize Me

My daughter and I have been watching a series we found on Netflix named Dexter.  Dexter is a blood spatter analyst by day and a serial killer by night. His adopted father was a cop and recognized Dexter’s “dark passenger” at an early age. He taught Dexter how not to get caught and to only kill those who deserve to die. So Dexter is a vigilante who only targets other killers, especially serial killers.

The show puts the viewer into the mind of Dexter by letting us hear his thoughts. The conflict between his “good” and “bad” personalities becomes even more contrasted once Dexter marries a woman with two children and then they have a child of their own. One episode we recently watched the question was asked, which Dexter will show up? Will it be the husband Dexter, the father Dexter, the serial killer Dexter, the blood spatter analyst Dexter or any other persona that Dexter has?

I immediately thought of my husband and his actions not only during his affair but for several years before.

I never knew which man would come home from work.

Would it be the faithful spouse, loving father, angry husband, annoyed lover, frustrated boss, sneaky betrayer or a variety of other personas my husband used during that time? There were days that I wished he’d just stay at work so I didn’t have to guess what his mood would be. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even recognize all of his different “sides” until his affair was discovered. Only then did I realize that for years my husband lived a life of dysfunction and deceit. The way he was acting at the time had nothing to do with his family and everything to do with his guilt and shame over his adulterous activities.

Countless times I’ve asked myself how I could not know what my husband had been doing behind my back. Yes, I had suspicions. I knew something wasn’t right. Yet I truly believed my husband wasn’t the “type of man” to cheat on me.

I’ve asked myself even more times how my husband could betray. How could he kiss me good bye, look me straight in the eye and lie about where he was going? How could he sit in the same room with me while sexting not only his AP but other women as well? How could he call me from the AP’s house and lie about what he was doing and when he would be home? How could he stand in front of our house with her and her two children weeks before d-day and lie to my face about who she was and what she was doing there? And for me one of the worse questions was how could he stand in front of her at the deli counter ordering his meat and cheese with me by his side week after week knowing their shared dirty little secret?

It boggled my mind.  Talk about in-your-face. I wondered not only how he could be so deceitful but how I could be so gullible, so trusting of the man I thought I knew so well.

Thanks to  Affair Recovery’s EMS Online course and the Recovery Library I learned the word “compartmentalize.” Somehow men are able to compartmentalize their lives. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition is “to separate into isolated compartments or categories.” Their example uses a male pronoun, not female. Compartmentalization is usually an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid mental discomfort and anxiety caused when a person has conflicting values, emotions, beliefs, etc.

So, if a cheating spouse can separate their actions, emotions, and behaviors into separate compartmentalized identities; their conflicting morals and actions can easily co-exist.

Just like the TV show character Dexter can keep the “dark passenger” side of his life and his married life separate, cheating spouses keep their family and married life separate from their “other” life.

Compartmentalizing isn’t usually something women are very adept at accomplishing. We compartmentalize a different way.  That’s probably why we have such a difficult time understanding it in our husbands. Rick stated this in one of his archived Expert Q&A answers, “How do men compartmentalize?”

One of the most life changing pieces of recovery for my husband has been that it has forced him to see his family as a complete part of his life. There’s no room for compartments in a marriage built on honesty, respect, and integrity. Luckily, once a man fully commits to recovery with time it becomes more and more difficult for him to compartmentalize his life. I’ve watched my husband struggle with this for nearly three years now. It’s been very hard for him to allow me to be a part of every aspect of his life. There have been times I’ve wanted to just give up and permit him his compartments. But that would negate all the hard work we’ve accomplished since d-day.

So I push him and thank goodness he also pushes himself to be honest and open about his life. We’re a work in progress but never again will I be compartmentalized, only a part of the whole. If there’s one thing we’ve learned on this journey it’s that honesty and openness in marriage is a daily choice. I’m grateful that we are not alone on this journey and that the Affair Recovery community understands our struggles. 

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I live with a compartmentalizer

Well, that article was a dead ringer for my life too. We are also coming up on 3 yrs since D-day. I realize now that my husband has compartmentalized all his life. It was the coping device for his very dysfunctional upbringing. Knowing this has helped me have empathy for him, and it is the only way I can get my head around his living a "robust double-life" for 6 plus years. It also helps me understand why he doesn't feel remorse or pain over his affair. Sometimes he acts and speaks as if he believes it wasn't him. This is so hard to accept... but I am praying and believing for breakthrough! In the meantime, I am taking care of me.. loving and forgiving him... and trusting the Lord to breakdown the compartments in His perfect way and in His perfect time!

Man of A Thousand Faces

Yes, I too can agree with the compartmentalizations about our husbands. Mine played them all, so well.
The AP never saw what was coming either. They Never stood a chance. He'd use them for sex, give them a few dollars, or cheap trinkets, but reserve the rest for me.
He was never going to leave just stay detached emotionally by cheating and acting out.
Funny, they Thought I was the Fool, but he had No respect for them and that's why he selected them.
This duplicitous behavior makes it hard to trust him ever. Having lived with a natural father, step father and watched other men in my family lie and cheat with no remorse has added to my betrayal trauma.
I don't feel safe. Will I ever know him?
Will the Real Guy stand Up?
When we're together, I feel nothing. Maybe, ice detached emotionally from him. It's a coping mechanism I learned in childhood after facing rejection and abandonment consistently.
He's dealt the wrong set of cards to the Right Woman.
If he's really being genuine now, he may have lost me. I can't afford anymore deception. It's not in my nature.
I understand that SA can do this in a person, but I can't let SA and it's symptoms/consequences destroy the remaining years of my life.
Our only hope? God. He must show me the truth about my husband. If he's all in or still grandstanding.
Whatever God decides, I know I can trust.

Perhaps you have seen the

Perhaps you have seen the truth in your husband and are afraid or unwilling for some reason to accept it. It's so hard for all of us who have been betrayed to learn to trust. I know that I'll trust the same way again. My husband used to tell me that I was too trusting. How prophetic! Maybe he was unconsciously trying to out himself.

Wow is all I can say Godspeach!

Your words were so piercing. I can related. I'm in shock with reading and accepting those truths you spoke. This is so deep! We didn't ask for this, yet we find ourselves doing the lions share of work. We're constantly digging and trying to get to the bottom of things, while our CS appear to be aloof and just happy we're not bringing anything up. They seem to be able to be happy with sweeping it all under the rug and getting to a point that we all forget it ever happened. They don't seem obsessed enough with total healing; with doing all the hard self reflection and self work needed. They lack true humility. I believe when we see true humility at its most vulnerable state, we could truly forgive. How do you forgive a lack of humility? You could say you forgive, yet the truth will remain in your soul. Forgiveness is possible, but our souls must be convinced and this sweeping it under the rug will do just the opposite.

I do hope your husband has a

I do hope your husband has a breakthrough! If my husband hadn't humbled himself and been willing to face his guilt and shame I don't believe we'd be where we are three years later. Take care of your self. Be safe. Be strong.

Not just men

While my husband definitely fits this mold of having many compartments that enabled his deceit, allowed him to say he loved me and wanted things to work while simultaneously being unfaithful, I too am adept at compartmentalizing. Having had a traumatic past with a history of abuse from many sources and PTSD, I had to learn that as a survival skill. I can easily maintain light rapport with my husband or others while simultaneously loathing and coping with inner torment. I have found that to be one of my greatest challenges in healing because I seem fine and functional but really, I'm not. It even jumbles up my inner issues of what's bothering me and when and often leads to built up outbursts and flooding. It can be extremely difficult to manage and that's why individual counseling has been so important during this time of trying to heal so I can try to put my best foot forward and not make an already painful and difficult process worse.

Learning this difficult concept

WOW - Thank you for this. I am 5 months from D-Day and this concept is the most difficult part of my recovery. I struggle with understanding the how my husband could have carried out the many deceits. How can you spend a family vacation together and then sleep with her days after? How do you make plans to be with her on you wife's birthday? How do you tell your wife you love her while carrying on a long time affair? How do you buy an anniversary gift while talking on the phone with her? Logically, I understand the definition - I just can't understand the concept of living that way.

Compartmentalizing like Dexter

Dear Lisa,
I'm just now reading your post. My husband has had sex addiction and I have no doubt compartmentalized horribly. My heart breaks for the vision of you standing in front of the deli counter. if I think of my husband as Dexter, it can make sense! I understand on a rational level, but not on a human level. Still does not make sense how people can justify on any psychological level inflicting pain on someone else in this way, and getting some payoff from it.
Love your post.

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