Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Agony of Adultery - Jane's Story

Let’s not glamorise it, dignify it, legitimise it or minimise it by calling it such light-hearted, whimsical names as an 'affair’, a ‘romance’ or a 'fling’.

Let’s call it what it is: adultery; a devastating trauma for the betrayed partner and innocent children injured by the fall-out.

Like most traumas - think of a car accident, facing a life-threatening illness, the death of a child, financial disaster - no one can really understand the depth of the pain unless they have experienced it.

In our sex-drenched culture where sex is treated so casually, it is hard to comprehend the emotional pain caused by a partner’s unfaithfulness.

A woman I know, let’s call her Jane, shared her devastation when her husband committed adultery. It took her three years to fully recover.

This is Jane's Story...

I could never have imagined the emotional pain of my husband being sexually involved with another woman until I was on the receiving end. This was no game or harmless flirtation, no fantasy. The reality of his adultery was a violation to my soul.

When I first found out, the shock waves reverberated in my mind and whole body. I was on my own in a foreign city. I lay awake all night staring at the ceiling, my heart pounding. It was a sledgehammer blow that plunged me into shock and smashed my entire life. Everything precious was smashed to smithereens.

As the reality sank in, shock turned to grief and I began crying uncontrollably for days and weeks. I was heartbroken. It felt like my heart had been severed with a knife and was gaping open. I wandered around in a daze, with tears streaming down my face.

After more than two decades of marriage, the bond that joined us as husband and wife was deep and inextricable on all levels; emotional, mental, physical, spiritual. It was this sacred bond that was violated, causing me such excruciating pain.

There was an incarcerating stretch of six weeks from when I found out about his involvement before I could finish my project and get a plane home. In that time I didn’t know if my husband would take me back or if our marriage was over. I was gripped with fear about the unknown future. I experienced such gnawing anxiety I could barely breathe and barely eat. I lost two stone in weight. I was cut adrift from the bonds of human love and care that had once held me so secure. I felt a sense of alienation that I had never known before and tasted the soul-chilling isolation of homelessness.

When I returned, my husband initially refused to take me back. I found myself with no marriage, no family, no home, no money, no job, no car and few real friends. For the first time in my comfortable, secure life I was abandoned with nowhere to go. I was on the brink of losing everything like so many mangled causalities of divorce.

Through her destructive influence, my husband was in an irrational state of guilty confusion. He had veered off the rails and we were heading for a train wreck.

Some so-called friends and dubious counsellors were more harmful than helpful at this critical turning point but with the support of one trustworthy counsellor, we managed to avert disaster and get our marriage back on track.

He ended the affair and we committed to rebuilding our marriage but I continued to stumble through a private hell of mental and emotional landmines.

In the months that followed, Iike a small boat being tossed in a storm, I rode the rough seas of turbulent emotions, and just when I thought the storm had subsided and calm was restored, I was hit with another wave of grief or rage or another disturbing realisation.

Before his adultery, I was ambivalent about the concept of ‘sin’ but now I was consumed by the bitter rage that comes from being ‘sinned against’. I now understood what it was to experience an offence that doesn’t merely ‘hurt your feelings’ but injures your soul.

I began to understand how victims of crime have revenge fantasies. My sense of outrage was overwhelming. I didn’t know it was humanly possible to feel such violent anger. I would visualise driving to her house and beating her up. I imagined the scene in vivid detail and had to pray hard to overcome the urge. I felt such intense hatred for her.

As the sordid details emerged bit by bit; the number of times it happened, where and when, the pre-meditated scheming and the lies and deception, I unleashed a torrent of rage on my husband, throwing things, bashing walls, screaming and spitting venomous diatribes of condemnation.

But the rage was just the surface expression of what was happening deep inside my gut. I felt violated; a churning sickening disgust. He had contaminated our marriage bed, defiled the sacred intimacy and mystery that connected us. I was flooded with images of them together and burning with a need to know all the sexual details. For some people, picking over the details would be masochism but for me it was necessary in processing.

The images filled my mind when we were making love. With every move, I was wondering did he do that to her? A third person had invaded our bed. The Eternal Triangle is a dysfunctional basis for a relationship. Even though it was over, I still felt a sense of exclusion like the outsider. I know this sense of sexual violation is a common experience for betrayed partners.

I became obsessed with her 24/7. Her sneering face was the first thing I saw when I woke up, when I was driving in traffic, when I was pushing the trolley in the supermarket. She had invaded my very being. More than obsessed, I was possessed. Unbelievably this torment lasted three years. I was mentally and emotionally scrambled. Doctors would call it Post Traumatic Stress. Who would think that a husband’s (or wife’s) pleasurable exploits could have such a lasting damaging effect on your mental health?

I had been naïve about women in the past. It was shocking to realise that another woman, who had been a friend, could attack and deliberately try to destroy our marriage and family and steal my husband. For her own selfish reasons, she was willing to hurt another human being and justify and rationalise her role. Like most women who have affairs, she absolved herself from moral responsibility by claiming it was his choice to cheat on his wife and ‘not up to her’! She had convinced herself that I was a ‘bad wife’ and didn’t deserve him, and saw herself as the rescuer, saving him from an unhappy marriage. How could my husband like and collude with someone determined to harm me?

As if she hadn’t inflicted enough pain, she even wrote a vicious, deluded letter months later boasting about their glorious romance and passion, declaring her adoration for him, condemning me, attacking our marriage and defending her noble character. After this hideous affair that injured two families, there was no reflection and remorse on her part. Months after, she seethed with hatred for me because I won the contest for my husband and in her malicious letter, she cruelly twisted the knife. To this day, I doubt that she has had the moral courage to face the truth about what she did.

I grieved for the loss of specialness in our love life. There was nothing special and uniquely ours anymore. This very personal and private part of our relationship had been taken from me. I’d been robbed of sexual purity and I’d been robbed of the romance and intimacy that should have been exclusively mine as a wife.

For someone who had previously been very confident in my attractiveness and sexuality, I became riddled with insecurity and jealousy and plagued with questions, comparing myself with this phantom rival. Did he find her more attractive? Did he love her? Did he feel emotionally close to her? Did he experience more passion than with me? Did she perform better? It was a debilitating obsession. My self-esteem plummeted and I lost my confidence as a woman.

I felt so humiliated and ashamed. I needed the support of family and friends and yet to talk about what happened made me so embarrassed. Whenever I talked with girlfriends, I felt better for off-loading but at the cost of losing my dignity.

Friends who had not been the victim of adultery could not understand the depth of pain and would get impatient with my slow progress with the glib advice to Get Over It and Move On. Recovery was mostly a lonely journey in my room: crying and journaling, seeking solace in books and praying but I was also blessed with the support of women friends in therapy groups and some sanity-saving counselling sessions.

It is hard to fathom that such a common experience in marriage can destroy your emotional health. For a long time I was so psychologically fragile I was unable to function properly at work. I moved between shock and disbelief that the man who loved me and shared my life could be so cruel to obsessing about understanding him, then sinking into grief for all we had lost and just as suddenly being overcome with bitterness and hatred.

It was through all this that I learned about forgiveness and practised it on a daily basis. I don’t believe humans have the power to forgive without divine help. I prayed for the Holy Spirit to give me power to forgive him and her. I prayed for forgiveness for myself and I prayed for emotional healing, to be freed from pain, anger and the desire for revenge.

My trust in my husband was shattered. He not only betrayed me sexually and emotionally, he also betrayed my privacy, telling her our secrets, discussing our issues and maligning me to win her sympathy. He had demonstrated that he was a brilliant liar, a devious master of deception. Through my digging and probing, it emerged that he had a pattern of lying to me throughout our marriage to protect himself. He was the master of the half-truth, skilled at the art of omission and fudging the facts.

It took ages for him to tell the whole truth about the affair. He would flare up when I asked a question or wanted to talk about it rationally. He tried to bury the whole episode and ‘just put it behind us’, as men like to do. His angry flare-ups were an effective tactic to avoid honesty and any genuine reflection but I persisted, although it was painful and caused countless arguments ending in my tears and his withdrawal. If we were to start afresh on a basis of honesty, it was essential I knew all the details. Rebuilding trust and emotional safety was a long and harrowing process.

He perceived my approaches for reassurance and consoling as attacks which triggered his guilt and shame and my attempts at calm discussion would repeatedly end in vicious fights, which I am ashamed to say impacted our teenage daughter who often locked herself in her room to hide from her demented screaming parents.

My respect for my husband was shattered. Throughout our marriage, I had elevated him on a pedestal as a paragon of virtue. He had carefully constructed a false image of a man of integrity. His adultery showed me he was capable of sinking to the lowest of the low. He had revealed his character weaknesses, being a sucker for female flattery and a willing participant in casual sex, no better than any other mindless male. I realised he had no morals around sexuality and no sense of honour as a husband. He had to work hard to regain my respect, dismantle his phoniness and face his demons.

It was easy to be judgmental. Facing my own demons was harder. The most profound and transformative emotion I experienced was remorse; a deep sorrow for all the wrong and harm I had done in my marriage, as a wife and mother, and in my single days, doing my shameful stint as the Other Woman, damaging innocent girlfriends and wives.

I entered the Dark Night of the Soul; a tunnel of reflection and soul-searching that took me to every black corner of my past to face my own sins, which I had been in denial about for years. I discovered that being a better person was not about fine-tuning a perfect image but the opposite; becoming more honest about my faults, more humble and more authentic. Through my experience of pain I developed empathy, understanding and compassion for other people’s suffering and struggles.

I was forced to explore the fault lines in our marriage, my own destructive habits and failure to love my husband properly. I read relationship books voraciously and started uncovering a few vital clues. The trauma of adultery set me on a quest to discover the secrets to a healthy marriage.

On the up side, if I am honest with myself, knowing that another woman fell for him made me appreciate my husband as a man. It reminded me of the attractive qualities that she must have seen in him; the qualities I first fell in love with; his handsome face, his gentleness, his charm, his humour, his conversational skills, his musical talent. I longed to re-connect with him and savour the level of intimacy he illicitly experienced with someone else.

Thinking about their carefully staged rendezvous’ made me want to compete with her as a seductress and romance my husband with candlelit dinners and lovemaking. She had created a fantasy bubble that blocked out the reality of everyday family life. It was an unsustainable sham. What I started offering my husband was real love and real romance.

In my better moments, I felt a poignant understanding and compassion for his human neediness. I admitted that I wasn’t meeting his emotional needs for acceptance, admiration and respect and could see how he was seeking to get this with someone else. Like all of us, he was driven by his unmet needs. He was flattered that someone found him attractive. His vulnerability collided with her opportunism.

Having come close to losing my husband, I now feel a new gratitude and appreciation of him, for all his faults. I am determined not to leave him vulnerable and open for another predatory woman to swoop in. I am now smarter about protecting my marriage and family.

After her malicious, self-righteous letter, I was determined to prove her wrong and prove to myself that I was not a ‘bad wife’, just someone who had made mistakes and was willing to change and grow. The painful crisis had the effect of making me determined to win my husband back just as he has tried to win me back with going on dates and romantic weekends away.

In response to her assault on our marriage, we ultimately closed ranks and presented a united front and restored the protective boundaries. We cut the soul ties and found emotional closure through mental discipline. I stopped obsessing about her and focused on us. I reclaimed what she attempted to steal, kill and destroy: my husband, my marriage, my family, my future and my self-esteem as a woman. Her twisted views on our marriage, her infatuation with my husband, her deluded view of herself and her incursion into our sacred space no longer had any power.

It took immense courage to work through the trauma but after all the processing and learning to forgive and love and cherish each other, we were blessed with some rare spiritual gems: redemption, renewal, restoration, reconciliation and recovery.


  1. Thankyou
    My hubby cheated 3yrs ago and although I took him back I have long felt this was at the expense of losing the me I was. My confidence is shattered even in making the smallest decisions and I sometimes feel I am on self destruct and the hardest thing is noone to confide in because I feel so ashamed. I read book after book gleaning all I can hoping something anything will help put me back together
    Your words give me hope that there is light xx

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