communicating about infidelity

What are some behaviors that can be helpful during the explosive moments that typically occur when communicating about infidelity?

By Sarah P.

If you went to elementary school in the United States, you will probably remember the “stop, drop, and roll” drills that schools conducted. The purpose of these drills was to save a person’s life if that person (or another) caught on fire. In fact, “stop, drop, and roll” is still taught in schools today, which means it is really important.

We can extend this concept and turn it into a metaphor for communicating about infidelity. When a couple talks about infidelity, some conversations can become explosive. 

This is common because there are few things that are more painful than being betrayed by the person who you trusted implicitly and with whom you have built a life.

I have written articles about fair fighting in the past and articles about fair fighting are essential. 

However, even if a couple is utilizing the tactics of fair fighting when communicating about infidelity, there often comes a point when one member of the couple is triggered. When this occurs, the rules of fair fighting evaporate in an explosion of anger and hurt. 

When this happens, communicating about infidelity will cause more harm than good and someone will get burned.

In this post, I have written a list of behaviors that can be used in these explosive moments.

But first, I wanted to explore what I call unhelpful conversations. These are the very conversations that we must stop because they lead to words that can never be taken back. 

These words that cannot be taken back will be like thorns in the side of your marriage; these words will stick to the person who hears them. These words and phrases that are destructive serve no purpose IF you are trying to recover your marriage.

Healing After Infidelity – Talk About Things

Communicating About Infidelity:  Unhelpful Conversations

If you are attempting to reconcile with your wayward spouse, there are helpful conversations and unhelpful conversations.

During affair recovery, we want to have helpful conversations. But, we also must learn to stop a conversation that is unhelpful.

Unhelpful conversations consist of one or all of the items below:

  • Name-calling: Do not call your spouse a bitch, bastard, mother-f***er, jerk, a**hole, idiot, stupid, worthless, whore, loser, or a good-for-nothing. Note: this is different from valid feedback. Valid feedback consists of “I cannot trust you because (fill in the blank) and this makes me feel unsafe.”
  • Hitting one another, strong-arming one another, punching walls, and throwing plates. Anything that involves violence must be shut down immediately. Violence solves nothing.
  • Having screaming matches in front of impressionable family members and/or having screaming matches at large, family events. (Please don’t ruin grandma’s 90th birthday)!
  • Bringing up incidents that happened 20 years ago, unless they are directly related to infidelity. If a spouse cheated 20 years ago and then cheated again more recently, bringing up a history of infidelity is essential. But, if your spouse did not cheat 20 years ago, keep the past in the past.
  • Accusatory “You” statements. Avoid statements like, “You are such an asshole” or “you are such a bitch.” These statements escalate conflict because the recipient jumps into attack or defend mode. This causes the conversation to spiral downward even more. But, I will reiterate one of the points above. It is valid to use “you” statements constructively, but they must reflect your own internal experience and be factual. 
  • Taking the bait when someone is verbally baiting you. We all know when someone is taking jabs at us that are meant to get under our skin. Don’t take the bait.
  • Don’t follow your spouse from room to room shouting at them. 
  • Don’t pull a family member into the fight, as tempting as it may be. Why? It won’t go well in the long run.
  • Gas-lighting your spouse
  • Saying things to make your spouse feel as if they are losing their sanity. 
  • Using conversation as a way to punish your spouse. It will feel good for about five seconds, but it will destroy trust and goodwill. 

Infidelity Recovery – Consequences of Punishing the Cheater

A Case Study…

I read an excellent case study online that demonstrates unhelpful conversations. While this case study does not involve infidelity, the behavior patterns of the married couple in this case study are nearly identical to behavioral patterns that can emerge during recovery. These behavior patterns actually tear a couple apart, rather than bringing them closer. 

Here is an addended version of an article/case study by Bob Livingstone that demonstrates how unhelpful conversations get out of control:

Ron was driving home from work and the traffic was an absolute mess. He was tired from dealing with his boss who was impossible to please and very difficult to get along with. He was sick of having to hold back from telling him how much he hated his guts. Cars on the freeway were either going too fast or too slow. The vehicle behind him had its bright lights on blinding him in his rear view mirror. He wanted to immediately stop his car, get out and hit the driver in the back of his head with a tire iron until the cows came home.

Cars cut him off left and right. Ron yelled at them through rolled up windows and would frequently honk his horn at cars going too slow in the passing lane. Why were so many people so insensitive to others and were they just plain stupid? He sensed his exhaustion as the rock and roll on the radio was turned up to both heighten and validate his rage.

He pulls up into his apartment parking space and turns off the car, finally. He sighs and is relieved that the evening commute is over. He greets his partner Melinda at the door with a less than passionate kiss on the cheek. He and Melinda have lived together for almost ten years now. They have had some rocky spots during that time, but he loves her very much. He is thirty five and she is thirty four. They don’t have any children yet, but are considering it. Ron works as an engineer for a high tech company and Melinda is a graphic artist.

She cooks him dinner every working night and he is thankful. She then tells him that she would prefer that he bought blueberries that were fresh rather than moldy ones. That is when Ron went off. All logic escaped him as he fired back, “I work hard every day and try to do the best I can and all you can do is criticize me for buying moldy blueberries? They didn’t look moldy to me. I can’t believe that you are attacking me for this. What about all the good things that I do? You are thoughtless and insensitive. How could you possibly even get your lips around these words? Why do you hate me so much?”

Melinda responded, “Ron, you know that I appreciate all that you do. I tell you that all the time, but you get so mad when I make a simple suggestion. You think I am attacking your character when all I am asking is that you pay more attention when you buy produce.”

In the back of Ron’s mind, he knows that Melinda is right and this only serves to make him feel ashamed for his outburst. He chooses to turn into the self-pity mode and he says, “I can never do anything good enough. I am just not a good person. I say these mean things to you all the time and I can never seem to change this behavior no matter what. I should just go.”

He picks up his car keys and Melinda says, “No, I’ll go stay with my friend Judy. I am so sick of you playing the victim card. You always do this whenever I make a suggestion. You say I’m mean and cruel or that I have bad timing. When the hell am I supposed share my feelings about your behavior? I walk on eggshells all the time not knowing when you are going to explode.”

Ron treats Melinda’s comments as an act of domestic terrorism. He doubles down and says, “You are sickening and have no idea what it is like to be me. I try so hard to always do the right thing, but you don’t care about me. You never really have. I have no idea why you want to be with someone who is as despicable as me. You are selfish and a terrible listener…” (1)

As you can see, Ron and Melinda have descended into an unhelpful conversation that will only build more contempt and distance on the part of each person. Ron and Melinda were arguing over blueberries. 

Think about how vicious conversations can become when you and your spouse are communicating about infidelity.

Let me reiterate that this article is for people who both agree that they want to restore their marriage. If one couple is unsure about reconciliation, then this article may not apply to your situation. 

This article will NOT be helpful if you find yourself in an emotionally abusive marriage.

So, I need to be clear that this article is for couples who want to reconcile their marriage.

Part of reconciliation is finding productive ways to communicate. This article is about how to stop communication patterns that will harm your ability to reconcile.

The Big Five: Gottman’s Communication Techniques to Talk about Infidelity

When Communicating About Infidelity Becomes Explosive…Stop, Drop, and Roll

To be clear, stop, drop, and roll is used metaphorically. Although, I suppose that if a couple were arguing and if one person in the couple stopped, dropped to the floor, and started tumbling and rolling around like a carefree kid, this would diffuse anger. This would be very humorous to watch and I imagine both members of the couple would end up laughing together. I would laugh!

So, if you are in a pinch, literally stop, drop, and roll and see what happens. 

If all else fails, watch this episode of Martha Speaks. Fast forward to the 16 minute mark. Martha the dog gives some pretty good advice for us humans!

But, back to being serious. 

When a communicating about infidelity spirals out of control, here are some tactics for using the metaphorical stop, drop, and roll to shut down unhelpful conversations.

STOP

Both people in the conversation must stop talking, stop moving, and take a deep breath. One person needs to say: 

“It is time to stop talking because this conversation is becoming unhelpful. Let’s go to separate rooms and return to this topic in 15 minutes.”

Sometimes saying such a thing can trigger more anger. So, one of the most important things you can do with your spouse is to discuss in advance what you will do when conversations enter unhelpful territory.

I would recommend sharing this article with your spouse so that both of you understand the rules of conversation.

Here are some other things to stop a conversation that is heading into unhelpful territory. 

Stop Phrases

  • I know we are both dedicated to repairing our marriage; let’s take a short break so that each of us can collect our thoughts.
  • I understand your frustration, but let us take breather and return to this topic in an hour.
  • The pain I am feeling is overwhelming; let me take a few moments alone. 

DROP

One of the suggestions that I give couples is to set time aside each week to talk only about the affair. I ask couples to collect their thoughts in a journal and discuss those thoughts at the designated time each week. However, life is not perfect. So, there will be times when you are triggered, but you need to drop the conversation.

Here are some phrases to drop conversations that head into unhealthy territory.

Drop Phrases

  • Let us discuss this on Saturday during our designated time. It could be a good idea to go journal your thoughts now so that we can be sure to revisit them.
  • I can hear your pain and frustration; it might be a good idea to have a warm shower or bath.
  • You may be right; let me take time to think about this. 
  • I am truly sorry that I hurt you and I want to make things better. Let’s revisit this. 

ROLL

There will be times when your spouse is extremely worked up and anger has hijacked any rational thinking. Or perhaps your spouse is worked up because he or she doesn’t want to be seen as the bad guy/girl, even though your spouse had an affair. 

Paradoxically, it is often the wayward spouse who can dish out the most cruel language and the most cruel behavior.

I believe many wayward spouses use anger to cover shame, since anger is technically a secondary emotion. Shame is usually the primary emotion an individual feels and they most often avoid shame by turning their shame to anger.

So, how do you roll with it?

  • Stop talking
  • Make eye contact that is gentle and non-threatening
  • Realize that your spouse’s burning anger is not about you; it is about his or her own thoughts or experiences. Nearly 100% of the time this anger that appears to come from nowhere has its origins in childhood and is reborn due to recent trauma.
  • If you can take a deep breath and realize the anger that is directed at you is not about you, you will be able to maintain graceful poise in these situations. 
  • If you feel anger bubbling up inside of yourself, you need to close your eyes and realize that your anger is about feelings of betrayal. 
  • If you were betrayed, your anger is about the abuse of your trust and it is also about abandonment. Even when people are recovering their marriage, there are always fears of abandonment since infidelity is a type of abandonment. Also, it is in human DNA to fear abandonment even if we have not experienced it until the moment our spouse had an affair.
  • Realize that you are battling triggers and bring this awareness into your mind. Realize triggers are in the past and that you are in your present. 
  • Close your eyes, feel your body, and focus on the now. 

Getting quiet, closing your eyes, and focusing on the now is extremely important.

Are there clouds in the sky? How does your body feel? Does the emotional pain manifest in your body? Where is it?

Allow feelings and pain to wash over you. Do not judge the experience. Let it wash over you and simply observe it, rather than judging it. Know that as it washes over you, it will dissipate. 

communicating about infidelity

Is Shutting Down Unhelpful Conversations a Way to Undermine Your Needs and Feelings as a Betrayed Spouse? 

This article is about only shutting down unhelpful conversations when communicating about infidelity that will lead to more harm than good.

This article is not about asking you to stop talking about infidelity. This article is about recognizing conversations that will burn you and putting a stop to them. 

Talking about infidelity is essential, but it needs top be done in a way that does not lead to more emotional harm. That’s what this article is about: interrupting emotional harm.

These unhelpful conversations generally start with triggers. Triggers can cause a conversation to get out of control and harm both participants.

I have a favorite song that explains the origin of triggers and illustrates how they work. When a person is triggered, those triggers come from past experiences. 

The song is called Digging in the Dirt by Peter Gabriel. The video shows how as an adult, he (Peter Gabriel) is taking his anger out in ways that are disproportionate to his present situation. In the music video, the story unfolds and illustrates how his unbalanced anger has roots in childhood. From the perspective of human psychology, this is a brilliant song and music video.

 

 

I suggest watching the video several times because it is so dense with information.

The core message in the video is connecting his triggers as an adult man to their roots in his childhood; these triggers result in explosive anger that can seem out of place. In the video, Peter Gabriel has to dig in the dirt and find the places he got hurt. Once he connects all of the triggers to the original pain, he is reborn. 

Then, he comes alive, the plants come alive, and the bee on his hand turns into a butterfly. 

But, before healing could happen, Peter Gabriel first had to find where the triggers originated. He had to dig deep into his past to do so. This allowed him to find the origin of his anger, which was triggered by situations that symbolized his painful past. 

Advice for the Unfaithful – Conquer Your Fight or Flight Response

In Summary

Communicating about infidelity with your spouse is difficult on a good day. This article is not about how to communicate effectively. I have written articles about fair-fighting in the past and those articles teach how to discuss infidelity in ways that are helpful.

However, even if a couple is having a reasonable conversation, a trigger could come up and that could turn a conversation into an unhelpful conversation where you will both get burned. 

Once an unhelpful conversation starts, you must have the tools to stop the conversation. This article was about those tools.

There are many things that people say when they are angry and they do not mean them. But, sometimes these things are so terrible, the words can NEVER be taken back. That breeds more pain. 

This article in not meant to undermine the experience of a betrayed spouse in any way. It is also not about questioning or subduing the reality and feelings of a betrayed spouse.

I never question the reality of betrayed spouses, I do not undermine their feelings, and to undermine betrayed spouses would be cruel. 

This article is simply about what to do when a conversation truly gets out of control – especially when communicating about infidelity.

I believe out-of-control conversations must be stopped for the mental health of everyone. But, stopping conversations only applies to out-of-control conversations

The very same topics must be revisited by a couple; but there are times when a couple must take a short “time out” to prevent words or actions that cannot be taken back.

This article is solely about stopping those conversations that will metaphorically turn into a blazing fire that burns everyone in its path.

How About You?

  • Do you have any tips on how to stop conversations that get out of control?
  • When communicating about infidelity, have you experienced conversations where what was said or done can never be taken back?
  • Do you have a different opinion? Do you believe that out-of-control conversations should run their course? If so, why?
  • Or do you agree that there is some merit in stopping conversations where you or your spouse may say or do things that can never be taken back?
  • When you talk to your spouse about your feelings, do you feel heard? Or do you feel brushed aside? What do you do when you are brushed aside?
  • How has your week been? 
  • Does anyone have progress to report in recovering their marriage? 

We want to hear from you!

Sources:

https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/redemption-for-a-man-who-hurt-his-partner-with-words/

 

    9 replies to "Stop, Drop, and Roll: Taking the Burn Out of Communicating About Infidelity"

    • Sarah P.

      Hello All,
      How have you been this week? If some of these suggestions hit to close to home, I will tell you that there are times I have made these very mistakes. No marriage is perfect. This article was largely born from reflecting on my own past relationships that have gone bad as well as the communication mistakes between and my partner. I am not the person who is a name caller, but I am the lady who will follow my husband from room to room, if he refuses to acknowledge something that is genuinely important. My husband is someone who can have a pattern of being aggressive and then avoidant. I am the straight talker who lays out on the table what I have observed. If my husband doesn’t like the different solutions that I have proposed he walks away and avoids. Then I begin the following him from room to room, letting him know that actual problems that affect our lives deeply cannot be avoided. So, I am guilty of some of these behaviors myself. Just saying!

      I will give you an example of this dynamic taken to the extreme. A couple of years ago, an amber alert went out that North Korea had launched a deadly missile and it was speeding toward the Hawaiian Islands. The thing was – me, my husband, and my kids were ON the Hawaiian Islands. For whatever reason, the amber alert hit my phone 10 minutes before it hit my husband’s phone. I had to convince him that the amber alert had been sent out and was not a figment of my imagination or a joke. Since he only saw the screenshot I took on my phone, he still did not believe it was real. Then, when it hit HIS phone, he called his brother who was on a different island. His brother had not gotten the alert yet. So, my husband went back to his “this is not real” stance. Meanwhile, I had our kids in the safest place in our accommodations. A closed area with no windows. I called my mom on the mainland and she set up a prayer chain. I was knelt in prayer asking for angelic intervention. Then, my husband heard from his brother that the amber alert came to his phone. My husband freaked out for a second and didn’t know what to do. I was calling him to come to the shelter I had improvised. But instead, he started cleaning the kitchen of the townhome we were staying in. He forced my oldest son out of the shelter and told him to carry the trash out to the industrial bins that were several buildings away. My son went and through the garbage away. My son said as he was walking outside, all kinds of people were yelling from their windows, “Hey kid! Get inside! There is a bomb out there, yah know!” My son reported that he kept saying, “I know! If there is a bomb out here we are all going to die whether you are inside or I am out here!” Then, he came back into the shelter I had created and I held my sons as I prayed out loud. I kept asking my husband to come join us. He did not. He was resolute and determined to take that one spot off the counter with a Brillo pad. I said, “Come on! Don’t Brillo a granite countertop. You will scratch it. Come be with us!” He just looked at me with blank eyes, got a vacuum cleaner, and started vacuuming the living room floor. I said, “Hey, as far as we know, this might be the end. Please come and be with us so we can all be together!” Nope. He kept cleaning while I sat in the shelter holding my sons, praying for Divine Intervention, and keeping my parents on speakerphone, telling them how much we loved them. This lasted for about 49 minutes. In the end, the amber alert was ruled a false flag.

      The lesson?

      Men will only clean the house when a nuclear bomb is heading our way. (That was a joke, there are many men who clean the house. I love you guys!)

      The lesson was that my husband went into avoidance mode and did not want to be with us. He shut us out, while I sat in the make-shift shelter, holding my children, saying prayers, saying goodbyes to those I loved, and making sure that if this was the end, I would be the person to shelter my children by wrapping them in my body and my love. If an actual bomb would have hit, that would have been out of my control. However, what was in my control was HOW I dealt with the situation. And I mustered all my courage and became the rock my children needed and tried to keep them focused on my love and my prayers so that they would not focus on why the heck their dad kept manically vacuuming the floor and refused to be with us.

      Even though this was a so-called false flag, it brought out everyone’s personality. There is nothing more brutal than looking death in the face. I had brought my children to a physical shelter and became the emotional shelter to ensure my children felt as safe as they could in such a situation. My husband chose to pretend it was just another day and vacuuming the floor at 8am was perfectly reasonable.

      Even though this story above is not about infidelity, it shows the different behavioral patterns that emerge during times of crisis. None of us are perfect, but we can try to do our best.

      There are many things out of our control. When these things occur, we have the choice to be in the moment and create order and a best case scenario OR we can just vacuum the floor and act as if nothing is happening.

      I hope everyone has had a blessed week. Tell me how you have been.

      Sarah

    • Exercisegrace

      One of the most valuable things I learned in the early times of affair recovery was how to ground myself. When I would first start to feel my emotions spiraling out of control, I would picture my feelings like the towering waves of the ocean. I would remind myself they would roll on and flatten out. I just needed to hold on and let that happen. Second I used a sensory method to distract and calm myself:

      The 5–4–3–2–1 Sensory Grounding Exercise:
      • Name five things you can see in this room.
      • Without moving, name four things you can feel (such as the floor under your feet). • Name three things you can hear.
      • Name two things you can smell or like the smell of.
      • Name one thing you can taste or like the taste of.

      This helped me enormously. My husband and I tried not to have marathon conversations about his affair, because when we did our tempers and emotions ALWAYS got the best of us. We agreed to set aside 20 minute blocks of time. We also agreed that if the other person felt overwhelmed, they could call time out. The caveat being that we would pick the conversation back up before the end of the day. This made us both feel heard and removed the temptation on his part to just call the time out to avoid talking about certain things.

      • Doug

        Great advice, EG. Thanks as always!

    • Exercisegrace

      Sarah, I love your comment above. To me it points out an important distinction. Under times of extreme duress, people behave in one of two ways. They stand and deal OR they cut and run. In most cases it seems that affairs usually happen around difficult life events. For us it was death of two parents, business/financial issues and much more. I assumed we would get through it together as a team. So I went the “stand and deal” route. I doubled down, did more than my share and kept pushing forward. My husband on the other hand chose the “cut and run”. He gave in to the attentions of a ho-worker and thus an affair was born. While there are all kinds of shades of gray in this analogy, I do truly believe there are just some people who will always choose themselves.

      • Soul Mate

        Excerscisegrace, You took the words right out of my mouth. My husband had suffered many life events before meeting Skankface. And I was truly the one that held down the fort for him and the family. The crazy thing is that we had suffered many tidal waves in our lives together and he was always the rock in which we all stood upon. He was awesome. Our Superman.

        But I honestly think..no I know that what broke my husband after he suffered the death of his father, the lose of a good job and the failure to start his own business was the day he was attacked at a wedding by a man who was the brother of very close friends. The man was drunk and got offended by something my husband said and he attacked him when my husband tried to walk away he punched him in the back of the head, knocked him to the ground and smashed his head on the cement floor until he was knocked out. I didn’t see the attack but was informed and went to see what was going on and saw him knocked out on the ground. They called an ambulance and the EMT’s checked my husband and wanted him to go to the hospital but he refused. It was horrible. All of our friends were there. I begged him to go to the ER because he had a huge open wound on his head but he refused until 2 days later, when it was to late and there was nothing they could do. As for our friends, well I can say they were all very distant after that. None wanted to get involved. They were actually very callous to my husband. All except the friend who had the wedding for his daughter. He tried to make amends with my husband but my husband refused. And at that very event, moment in time, my husband turned into someone I hardly knew. By that time he had started a new job and it was at a lower level than he had been used to. He was an executive and this position was managerial. He never connected with the folks . He turned sour, everyone was against him in his mind. You couldn’t reason with him. It was horrible. Little did I know Skankface was the only friend he had over there that he could talk to, who validated his every negative ugly thought about the people who were his bosses, friends and family. And her bosses too. I do believe that his head injury has changed him. And the embarrassment he suffered in front of so many, including me devastated him. It triggered something in him that was truly ugly to watch.

    • Sarah P.

      Hello ExerciseGrace and SoulMate,

      The common theme I see here is that when the metaphorical “perfect storm” hits., all the layers drop away from a perso.n. Then we get to see the core of a person.

      Did that person use this life to develop a strong core and the quick thinking and resilience required to weather the storm? Or does a person have a weak core? Or what about those who have no core sense of self and who have gotten their sense of value from others? Well, if a person got their entire sense of self from EXTERNAL sources, what happens when life falls apart?

      I believe that the idea of having an internalized sense of self that is based on integrity can carry people through life’s storms. I also believe an internalized sense of self based on genuine self esteem AND integrity can steer a person away from making bad decisions in the first place, even when life falls apart.

      No one is perfect, but I do believe that when storms hit, the personal with a positive and internalized sense of self at their core is going to fare better than an individual who has an externalized sense of self. Someone with an externalized sense of self goes through life seeking external validation. This is because they have never developed a positive and internalized sense of self that creates a strong core. Someone with an externalized sense of self generally has no core self. The two don’t fit together. For example, one person cannot be standing inside a locked and closed house and at the same time stand on the outside of a closed and locked home.

      It’s one or the other.

      See what I mean?

      You either have a core sense of self or you don’t. The people with a core sense of self can weather challenging times. The folks who look externally will probably look even more externally during challenging times. And that can lead to disaster.

      This is an observation. Does it ring true?

    • Sarah P.

      Another comment…. I have also noticed that people who have never experienced infidelity can have a hard time understanding the depth of the pain.

      An example from my life. Goggle was featuring the poet Sylvia Plath and this was a conversation my husband, my youngest, and I had. The conversation went something like this:

      Husband: “Oh look, Google is featuring Sylvia Plath. Wasn’t she some kind of writer?”

      (Don’t ask this question to someone with an undergrad degree in English – who also fat fingers a lot of words and breaks grammar rules all the time, AND who has been betrayed….)

      Me: “She was a wonderful poet. She was brilliant, beautiful, and truly ahead of her time. I am glad she is getting recognition in popular culture. That’s awesome.”

      My son: “So where is she?”

      My husband: “She passed away a long time ago.”

      My son: “Was she old? Did she have children?”

      Me: “She was very young and she had young children when she passed away.”

      My son: “That’s so sad. How did she die?”

      My husband: “She was a very troubled woman. Sadly, depression killed her.”

      My son: “Depression kills people? Is it like cancer or a heart attack?”

      My husband: “Depression is a disease that troubled people suffer from. It can kill people and Sylvia Plath died from depression.”

      My son: “Why?”

      My husband: “Because she was a very troubled woman.”

      My son: “Why was she troubled?”

      My husband: “She was troubled because she was depressed.”

      (Finally I stepped in. It was real talk time, not nonsense word salad time. Even though my husband doesn’t know her writing, he knows why and how Sylvia Plath died and it was not from depression. Any time I think of why she died, anger takes over. I got triggered.)

      Me: “Sylvia Plath was a brilliant, young American woman and writer who attended the most famous universities in the world. Her poetry was so compelling that she skyrocketed to fame at a time when such a thing was very unlikely for a woman. Her raw writing style and brilliance inspired many women ever since. But back then, like many women, she married quite young. She fell in love with a British writer named Ted Hughes. He was the love of her life. They got married and she and her husband (Ted) had children.”

      My son: “What happened to her?”

      Me: “Her husband cheated on her with another woman, his lover became pregnant with his child and he would not make a choice between his wife and his actual children with his wife OR his lover who was also married to another man at the time.”

      My son: “Were her children young when she died?”

      Me: “Of course they were. Sylvia Plath was only 30-years-old when she died.”

      My son: “How did depression kill her?”

      Me: “Depression did not kill her. But, her husband’s affair that he did not attempt to hide emotionally broke her. He did not care that even his own children knew about his lover. He refused to be a husband and father because he was too interested in seducing other women. Sylvia allegedly killed her self by sticking her head in a gas oven. It was ruled a suicide, but the funny thing was, she had already packed her children’s lunches and had their back packs ready for school when she was found…”

      My son: “You are saying that her husband cheated on her and he refused to be a good husband and father and she killer herself?”

      Me: “Yes. That’s what I am saying.”

      My son: (mouth open with a look of disgust on his face.) “I don’t understand how her husband could be so evil!”

      Me: “Me neither. But, I am really grateful that I was broken by infidelity early on, survived it, and I would never allow anyone to make me so sad that I would harm myself. Quite the contrary. They would wish they had never harmed me..”

      My son: “Have you ever saved someone from committing suicide because their husband or wife cheated on them?”

      Me: “What do you think?”

      My son: “You have probably saved many.”

      I nodded and that’s when the conversation ended.

      Here is what struck me the most:

      My husband sat there silently as if someone had just read the weather report. He had no reaction at all on his face. His face was entirely blank. Meanwhile my teen was fuming thinking about Sylvia Plath and how her life ended. He did not have to know her to feel empathy for her and her children.. Before anyone thinks I am horrible, my teen is very world wise and has spoken to many peers over the years whose parent’s marriages were ending due to infidelity. Even 10 years ago my son was talking to his peers who came to school in tears and vomiting because their parents marriage was ending due to an affair. I remember the year he held his best friends hand almost every day and talked his friend down from relentless panic attacks. He and his friend were only 7-years-old at the time. But, my son somehow had the natural wisdom to support his best friend even as a 7-year-old. So, I was not having this conversation in front of a young child. I was having this conversation with a teen who is a very old soul and who has seen more in his life by the age of 16 than I had seen at the age of 16. That’s for sure.

      The thing that bothered me the most about the conversation is that my husband tried to spin Sylvia Plath as some crazy woman who randomly ended her life. He did not want to tell the real story behind Sylvia Plath’s death, even though he knew the story. It’s funny that my husband knows the facts of her death more than the facts of who she was as a writer. He just associates her name with “that crazy lady who gassed herself in the oven.”

      But here is the scoop. No one just wakes up one day and decides to kill themselves. They don’t jump from A to Z for no reason.

      I did not continue the conversation about Plath with my family because the story is more evil than this. As soon as she died, her husband burned her journals and attempted to burn any of her writing that detailed his physical and emotional abuse of her. Then, he attempted to capitalize on her fame and use the money for his own means. He ended up having a child with his lover and his lover raised her children and his children. But a man like this never has one lover. He had a revolving door of lovers. In a strange turn of events his lover ended up killing herself and their own daughter in 1969. What surprises me is that Ted Hughes was never questioned about the fact that Sylvia allegedly committed suicide by gassing herself in an oven. When his lover gassed herself and their daughter several years later, no one questioned him.

      Plus, the dead don’t talk, do they?

      I know this is a very dark thread, but I hope that anyone who is reading this realizes that it is just not worth ending your life over a cheating spouse. Just because a cheating spouse cannot see that you are a pearl does not change the fact that you are a pearl.

      When someone cheats, they are the problem. Because they are the problem there is nothing you can do or not do to change their flawed choices. The cheater is the problem.

      Also, very few people write about the utter ugliness of infidelity. Sylvia Plath’s life shows us what the utter ugliness of infidelity looks like. I would also like to say that I do not believe she committed suicide. I believe her husband either forced her head into the oven himself or taunted her until she broke. People who are abusive are master manipulators and also usually narcissistic. They know how to be so charming that the world never looks at their part. I am sure at the time Ted Hughes had a host of fans who probably saw him as the long suffering husband to a crazy woman. Luckily, more of the truth has come out over the years and the villain in this scenario is Ted Hughes and not his mistresses.

      Tell me, how do you feel about reading this? For the betrayed folks out there can you understand why I told my son part of Sylvia Plath’s story rather than white washing her story and writing her off as just a troubled woman?

      I know the pain I have suffered and being betrayed can change the most sunny, positive and carefree of personalities. Even though I did not reconcile with my ex, I will tell you that there was a “Sarah before being betrayed” and a “Sarah after being betrayed.” For years I have been trying to relocate the “Sarah before being betrayed.” Some days I get glimpses of her, but most days I remain the “Sarah after being betrayed.”

      My next post will be about how being betrayed can feel very much like a death. But, unless someone has been betrayed, I think they cannot fully imagine how that could be. Anyhow, I will be exploring that next.

      What ridiculous conversations have you had this week with your wayward spouse?

      The song that keeps playing in my mind this week is this one from 1992:

      https://youtu.be/9AbjYmLIIGE

    • Sophia Morris

      Really informative article Sarah! Completely agree with the points you’ve mentioned. It’s important to be understanding and patient. Clear and open communication goes a long way in the recovery process.

      • Sarah P.

        Hello Sophia,
        Thanks for reading this thread and chiming in. Yes, clear and open communication goes a long way. I always wonder what the world would look like if people used clear and honest communication. Of course, it would need to be tempered with diplomacy and respect. People can communicate clearly and openly without swearing, without yelling, and without name calling. Of course if a person is living life just after D-Day, they have my permission to swear and yell all they want. There is nothing like being betrayed that will level a person to the extent that they go off the rails. In the early days, going off the rails is the new normal.

        Sophia, welcome. Care to tell us your story or are you just stopping by?

        Sarah

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