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.