It’s not about what you deserve. It’s about what you believe.
Sarah had suspected George’s affair with their mutual friend, Jamie, for several months. George’s denials kept her at bay, but when she came home to find Jamie’s car parked in their driveway, she finally faced the facts. George was having an affair. Sarah and George began infidelity counseling soon after she confronted him.
In their affair recovery process, George spent the next 18 months trying to make up for it, changing the best he could, doing everything Sarah asked for. He listened more, spent more time with the family, curbed his anger, and was more attentive in general. But, after a while, the distance began to slowly creep back in. Sarah grew more and more fearful and frustrated by the day. She pulled and tugged and invited and begged and caressed, trying to get George to talk to her again, to be attentive like he had been, but nothing seemed to work. She was growing desperate, and her desperation grew to anger and resentment. She didn’t deserve this. She had been a good wife and mother. She felt she deserved so much more.
Meanwhile, George was also growing more and more fearful. He felt that nothing he did ever really changed things for Sarah. There was always something she needed or wanted or demanded from him; there was no end to him having to make up for what he did. He felt her watching him…sometimes it felt like she was watching his every move. He knew he’d done wrong, and he was sick about it, but would they ever be equals again? Did he really deserve this kind of scrutiny after two years of working his ass off to fix the marriage?
Both spouses felt they didn’t deserve the raw deal they were getting. But in affair recovery—and in any marital issue—it’s not about what you deserve, contrary to much of conventional thinking. It’s ultimately about what you believe. Because what you believe is what you stand for and what you stand for defines who you are.
And who you are is what makes a marriage.
When Sarah first started her work with me, she confessed the affair made her lose her belief in people. She had thought George would’ve been the last person on earth who would cheat. She was so thrown by how she’d missed this that she was losing her belief in her own judgment too. Finding out about his infidelity not only shook her fundamental belief that people were doing the best they could, it also shook her belief in herself and her own judgment.
But Sarah was a better person when she believed in people. And she was a better person when she wasn’t second guessing herself so ferociously. Maybe she was doing the best she could too.
What beliefs did you have before marital infidelity that you are now questioning? What beliefs did you have that you thought were key to making relationships work that you are now doubting because of the infidelity? Are these beliefs about how others need to act or how you will act when faced with intense challenges? What beliefs make you a better person? What beliefs turn you into a frog?
Many months later, Sarah shared with me just how essential figuring out what she really believed—about marriage, about her family, about people—had been to her progress and to the progress of her marriage. She remembered that her belief that people are doing the best they can made her a better person. She realized she could even apply this to George. He had failed. He had done something disgusting to her. But she was able to stop judging him for it. “The best he can” to her didn’t mean good…it just meant he wasn’t capable of better at the time for many many reasons.
Besides, she was tired of being tired. She knew her anger and resentment weren’t just torturing George. They were killing her too.
What do you believe? What do you stand for?
The next 6 posts in this series will feature a belief that different couples I’ve worked with have realized, remembered, or adopted that have made a significant difference for them. Today was Sarah’s belief that people are doing the best they can. Next will be John’s belief that he needed to focus on himself and his own emotional reactions rather than on his wife’s, even though—yes, even though—she had cheated on him.
I know that at times these posts can be provocative. Please feel free to share your thoughts below. You can always respond anonymously with alias email addresses or names.