My wife did indeed return home this morning, as previously mentioned. She seemed in good spirits, but after I got back from work her mood had turned more reserved. She had the door shut to her office as I came in the house, and I could hear her talking to a friend on the phone. Since our house is small, it’s easy to overhear things without really trying, and I know this was the friend she was planning to move in with for the coming month. She was telling this friend about how her parents are very negative and disapprove of what she’s doing, and how they’d like her to just cut ties with everyone and everything and return home. Of course they are worried, but that’s pretty terrible advice, at least in terms of reconciling a marriage.
One thing I should mention about this friend is that she lives about 2 blocks from here, and is married, about our age, and no kids. So their marital situation is similar to ours, except that they have been together for at least twice as long and don’t appear to be in any sort of crisis. The both know of my wife’s affair and somehow do not feel uncomfortable aiding and abetting an adulteress. That I just do not understand. It is possible that they have been lied to or given extensive rationalizations. This friend is going out of her way to help my wife destroy her marriage, and is offering to pick up boxes to help her pack. Incidentally, this friend is also a colleague of mine whom I work with on a weekly basis. I will see her in a few days, and I don’t know how she’s going to repress her guilty conscience.
The affair seems to show no signs of crumbling, unfortunately. A few days together seems to have revived their confidence in the utter superficial banality of their relationship. She did not bring any gifts home, and the ones that are already here are extremely cheesy: an Eckhardt Tolle calendar, and a quasi-spiritual self-help book. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no truck with Eckhardt Tolle, but these kinds of gifts are things my wife would just never go for under normal circumstances. Not at all. I know the kinds of things she likes, and those aren’t it. I’ve become a sort of Santa Claus, a master of giving, and I give daily in all sorts of ways. The power of giving is that, while words or actions might be rejected, it’s hard to rationalize a reason to reject an inanimate object. (People do, though!)
I had left an anniversary card in my wife’s purse before I left for work the day she left a few days ago. She never mentioned it, but I had put a short piece of music I’d written (I do that as part of my living) inside the card for her, and she thanked me for it. I had also put a bound copy of that piece in her office, so it could have been that she was thanking me about as well. But, I did see the opened card in her purse, and I assume she found and opened it while she was with her lover. That’s a big plus for me, I’d think, and a big minus for him. I doubt she shared it with him — how could she? — and that would be a good thing, as it would mean she’d need to keep secrets from him. You see, the mentality of an adulterer survives only in a secretive and deceptive environment, so any situations that reinforce that usually end up being productive in bringing down the affair. Unless the adulterer is a sociopath, sooner or later their conscience is going to break under the weight of all the lies and deceptions that are told in the service of maintaining the affair.
Of course, there’s another very curious thing that happens along the way: the adulterer tries to come clean about the affair. Either they bring this to you, or they go to their friends, family, co-workers, or some combination or all of the above. My wife started to come clean with a select group of people she felt she could trust immediately after I discovered the affair, but otherwise she kept it under wraps. She would not discuss it with me, as I simply would shut down any such conversation. In the past week or so, however, she began to actively try to go public with it. Again, she won’t breathe a word of it to me, as I won’t hear it. But she has come out to friends, family, and pretty much anyone who might listen. She even brought this person to a church social event, which I would find mortifying in and of itself, except that she then went on to introduce him to the pastor. What’s even worse is that she knows this pastor suffered a similar fate as me: his first wife cheated on him, and then divorced him. The reason adulterers go public is simple: the weight of their conscience gets so heavy that the adulterer needs to try to get as many people as possible to buy into the relationship as they can, so that they can pretend that somehow it’s normal.
The problem is that it’s not normal, and everyone knows that. While it might be possible that extensive lies and rationalizations are told to encourage others to feel comfortable around the adulterer’s lover, people typically just aren’t comfortable with this situation. I’ve known people who had gotten themselves involved in adulterous situations in the past, and they all came out with this information eventually. There usually was some sort of explanation: things aren’t going well with my spouse, we’re separating, s/he agrees with this idea, and so on. Who knows if any of it is true. Even if this is a person you like a lot and generally respect, it still makes you feel uncomfortable. Sure, you might be a bit accepting if the person tells you that their marriage is basically over, their spouse has assented or at least accepted this fate, and that the affair is a necessity. (It’s never described as an affair, by the way, it would simply be called a “relationship” or some other fairly neutral term.) But still you feel uneasy inside because that person is still married.
There is empirical evidence for these reactions, by the way. A recent (2010) Gallup poll showed that 92% of Americans consider adultery to be morally wrong. What’s interesting here is that this is a pretty universal opinion: the moral acceptability of adultery is in the single digits regardless of gender or political affiliation. This is pretty astounding. It’s not surprising then, that virtually all affairs end: the ignominy is just too much to bear, and the pressure of disapproval from society is just too great.
So how do I cope with it all? Well, for one thing, I have a well defined regimen of reconciliation strategies that I’ve been employing for two months now. They’ve become positive behavioral habits, and I just keep doing them. For example, I’ve been making my wife’s bed every night for the past two months, as she has elected to sleep in the living room to save herself the burden of sharing our bed. I usually leave some sort of goodies — a chocolate, a cup of tea, etc. — alongside the bed for her, and usually turn on her aromatherapy diffuser and do a few other little things. Tonight, I left a thank-you letter that I had been encouraged to write. In it I expressed gratitude for the many things she has done, both large and small, for me and our marriage over the past 7 years we’ve been married. Not only that, but I explained the emotions that these actions provoked in me, and sometimes in others (e.g. where they positively affected relatives or friends). You can imagine the impact this might have: my wife is planning on moving out, probably sometime this week, and has rationalized things to the point that she has rewritten the history of our marriage such that she believes she never experienced “real love” with me. Her rationalization was that she was “dependent,” and that in order to experience “true love,” one must first become independent (read: selfish) and assure one’s own happiness first (read: selfishness). My recounting of these various experiences shows to her that her version of our marriage is just a fiction. How would you feel if you were trying to write a narrative of your marriage in which your spouse was the villain, yet at every turn he was actively rewriting that story for you, so that it actually comes in line with reality?
Well, one thing that might happen is you’d try to escape. You might try to run away. This could happen mentally, emotionally, or physically, or all of the above. That’s what she seems to be doing; she’s been doing it for three months now, and it’s finally getting critical. The problem is that wherever you try to run away to, you’re still there. You bring yourself, all your problems, all your neuroses, and all your guilt for your past actions to wherever you run. You just cannot escape your conscience no matter how hard you try.
Many people, when they find their spouse abandoning them, just give up. This is the wrong thing to do. If you want to reconcile your marriage, you need to keep applying the gentle and steady pressure of unconditional love, regardless of the physical, mental, or emotional distance of the spouse. They will protest, because they want you to give up. But if you persist, sooner or later you’ll break through, and reconciliation will be possible.
That’s my vision, friends. My future holds the reconciliation of my marriage. She won’t give it to me without a fight. That fight is all about holding on to the fairy tale affair and its never-present happy ending. But eventually that affair will crumble and her situation will spiral out of control. When that happens, I’ll still be here, the door will be open, and I will have nurtured her soul with consistent acts of unconditional love that allow the roots of marriage renewal to grow.