By Sarah P.
I do not know what it is about the past couple of months that has turned many normally grounded people into huge fools. But, I have seen it everywhere. I have seen well-meaning betrayed spouses/partners responding in the most inappropriate ways to wayward spouses/partners.
It seems that a wayward spouses egregious behavior is directly proportionate to a wayward spouse’s kindness and giving the benefit of the doubt. I have seen many people recently allow themselves to get played by a wayward partner, all the while being blind to the fact that they are playing right into the cheater’s plan. I believe betrayed spouses need to have boundaries.
I wanted to provide an example of what good boundaries look like and I found them in a Friend’s episode. Now, technically these characters were not married, but the themes Rachel brings up are universal. This clip also shows miscommunication or perhaps how Ross uses ambiguity to his advantage.
In this clip, Ross and Rachel had taken “a break” the evening before in order to figure out what they wanted from the relationship. But, it was not a break-up. In this episode, Ross slept with another woman just hours after talking to Rachel about getting some air, believing that the break was a reason to justify this. And of course, this backfires. The morning after Ross goes around trying to do damage control since others (except Rachel) found out. Ultimately Ross’s damage control fails, and Rachel finds out:
I wanted to point out a few things I liked about this clip.
The first thing I liked about it was that Rachel addressed it head on. When Ross did not get it, Rachel forced him to visual her with another man using graphic descriptions. The third thing I liked is that she did not let him off the hook even though he apologized.
Later in this episode, Rachel does not run back into the arms of Ross and instead has to let it process that he has been with another woman. She makes a clean break so that he can feel the full force of his actions.
Whether someone is married or not, the only power they have in a relationship is the power they give themselves. Their power comes from their choices, their boundaries, and how they decide to show up in the world. Everyone around them can betray them, try to victimize them or undermine them, or harm them. But, that person does not have to be victimized by setting clear boundaries and sticking to them. If your spouse has had an affair, your victimization (or not) is within your hands. You choose to be a victim.
We cannot choose what life throws at us, and life can throw a lot of unpleasantries at us. But we can choose to suffer or not.
Meditate on that for a moment: there will always be suffering in life. Always. But, each of us must choose our response to suffering and each of us has the power of choice.
Enabling and Codependence
When an affair occurs, many people’s natural response to the suffering of an affair involves codependence. Yes, this topic again. But, it is such a prevalent reaction after an affair and yet it causes betrayed spouses to play “the double fool.”
I really like this definition of how codependence comes into play, which is provided by the contributor LordHasAPlan on the Surviving Infidelity (SI) site:
“Given the devastation that is unleashed on our lives in the wake of discovering that our spouse was unfaithful, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves holding on and attempting to fix the WS or control the Marital outcome. Codependency, means making the relationship more important to you than you are to yourself. Are you making your relationship more important than yourself? I know I did, prior to the affair and increased that in the aftermath of D-Day. Please let me say this as clearly as possible. You cannot make the marriage work with someone else who’s not. The harder you try the worse it will become; you do it at the detriment to yourself, putting that dysfunctional relationship first. Many BS’s here wanted marriage so bad they were willing to negotiate with their WS to their own emotional and mental peril.
There are many reasons I have seen here on SI for the codependency within the marriage. One partner may have trouble controlling other impulses, or simply not show much interest in the partnership. It can be about controlling outcomes and assuming a motherly/fatherly role with the WS. It can be a historic need by the BS to work the partner’s problem or issue in an attempt to “fix” their problems… Co-dependent marriages are the most abusive form of marriages. They are based on need, but are not healthy. Each partner in the marriage tries to take advantage of his or her hold on the other partner. This can often deteriorate into the sort of marriage where the two partners can neither live together nor live apart.” (1)
I really like this person’s viewpoint because I think they are spot-on in their thinking.
Codependency Taken to the Extreme
I wanted to bring to light a scenario that I have observed ever since I was in college. Of course, when I was in college, I did not know anything about healthy relationships. I looked to my friends and if their relationship system appeared to work, then I would assume that it what it took to make a good relationship, never mind the fact that college relationships often lasted no more than two years. But, if someone was together for 6 months, that was a really long time in college terms, and that was a ‘serious’ relationship.
The system that worked in college was codependence.
It was the particular scenario where there was a small group of female best friends, but at least one of the best friends was always disappearing off the face of the earth. Just as mysteriously as she disappeared, she would often reappear several months later. And the conversation would always go like this:
“Jenny, we were like worried about you. We only left about 100 gazillion messages on your answering machine—where were you?”
“Debbie, like I saw you at the mall last weekends and even though I was waving and yelling your name you didn’t see me. Did I totally piss you off or something?”
“Kelly, where have you been? We knocked on your dorm room door for hours each day and you never answered. Everyone totally thought you had been kidnapped by aliens!”
And then Jenny, Debbie, or Kelly would answer something to the effect of:
“Well, you know that guy Mike who works at the pizza parlor? Well, we started this relationship and it was so intense—we just couldn’t stop staring into each other’s eyes. I even stopped skipping class to be with him but then he dumped me. I totally thought he was so into me!”
“Yeah sorry I didn’t answer the door. Do you remember Max from the football team? Well, he was totally my soulmate, ya know. Or at least I thought he was and we spent all of our waking hours together. But then I found out that he was actually with that cheerleader Lindsay when he was supposed to be at football practice!”
“You were at the mall? Are you sure about that? Well, I was at the mall with Adam and I didn’t see you there. Are you sure you didn’t mistake me for someone else?”
I saw a lot of college relationships like this and we all thought giving up our friends, disappearing for the sake of a guy, and devoting all of our time to said guy was what normal relationships were about.
In college, we also believed that physical chemistry (not the class but the heady sexual concoction of chemicals) was the most important thing in life and relationships. We judged our partners solely on whether or not he could cause butterflies in our stomachs and send a tingle through our toes.
But, what are those college-type relationships based upon? Well, they are based upon immaturity and codependence. In fact, I have come to think of codependence as a type of immaturity.
Fully actualized adults, per Maslow’s pyramid, is not a codependent adult. We cannot be fully actualized and autonomous beings while being codependent. Just like oil and water, the two do not mix.
What does this have to do with affair recovery?
You see, before there was the affair, there was marriage. A marriage may have been founded on this codependent thinking, which would say that we melt into our spouse. Even though the Bible talks about becoming one flesh, this is a figurative thing and NOT a literal thing.
When taken literally people will think that they are supposed to give up their identities as separate individuals. But when taken figuratively, it means that you should consider yourself like your spouse and never do anything to your spouse that you would not want to have done to you. If you think about it, this precludes affairs. I cannot think of anyone out there who would want to be a betrayed spouse. Becoming one flesh means that if we don’t want it for ourselves, then we cannot do it to our spouse.
Becoming one flesh also refers to the marriage body. One needs to take care of the marriage body and treat it the same way that they would treat their own body. If someone has an affair, they are risking what could be a fatal blow to the marriage body.
Becoming one flesh is about commitment and about never harming a spouse in the way that you yourself would not want to be harmed.
But, becoming one flesh is not about codependence.
Melody Beattie is the expert on codependence. She has a master list on her website, but I have worked that list down to the essentials. (Please see the sources for her whole list.) I would like for you to go through this list of behaviors and figure out which ones applied to your marriage prior to the affair and which ones apply to your marriage post-affair. Please be brutally honest with yourself. Remember that while the river Nile leads somewhere, the river of Denial leads nowhere.
Here is the list of codependent behaviors according to Melody Beattie:
- “think and feel responsible for other people for other people’s feelings, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny.
- feel anxiety, pity, and guilt when other people have a problem.
- feel compelled almost forced to help that person solve the problem, such as offering unwanted advice, giving a rapid-fire series of suggestions, or fixing feelings.
- feel angry when their help isn’t effective.
- anticipate other people’s needs.
- wonders why others don’t do the same for them.
- finds themselves saying yes when they mean no, doing things they don’t really want to be doing, doing more than their fair share of the work, and doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves.
- do not know what they want and need or, if they do, tell themselves what they want and need is not important.
- try to please others instead of themselves.
- find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others, rather than injustices done to themselves.
- pick on themselves for everything, including the way they think, feel, look, act, and behave.
- get angry, defensive, self-righteous, and indignant when others blame and criticize the codependents something codependents regularly do to themselves.
- think they’re not quite good enough.
- feel guilty about spending money on themselves or doing unnecessary or fun things for themselves.
- have been victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, or alcoholism.
- have a lot of “shoulds.”
- feel a lot of guilt.
- feel ashamed of who they are
- ignore problems or pretend they aren’t happening.
- pretend circumstances aren’t as bad as they are.
- tell themselves things will be better tomorrow.
- stay busy so they don’t have to think about things.
- get confused.
- get depressed or sick.
- go to doctors and get tranquilizers.
- became workaholics.
- spend money compulsively.
- pretend those things aren’t happening, either.
- watch problems get worse.
- believe lies.
- lie to themselves.
- wonder why they feel like they’re going crazy.
- feel terribly threatened by the loss of any thing or person they think provides their happiness.
- didn’t feel love and approval from their parents.
- don’t love themselves.
- often seek love from people incapable of loving.
- believe other people are never there for them.
- equate love with pain.
- feel they need people more than they want them.
- try to prove they’re good enough to be loved.
- don’t take time to see if other people are good for them.
- worry whether other people love or like them.
- don’t take time to figure out if they love or like other people.
- center their lives around other people.
- look to relationships to provide all their good feelings.
- lose interest in their own lives when they love.
- stay in relationships that don’t work.
- tolerate abuse to keep people loving them.
- feel trapped in relationships.
- leave bad relationships and form new ones that don’t work either.
- say they won’t tolerate certain behaviors from other people.
- gradually increase their tolerance until they can tolerate and do things they said they never would.
- let others hurt them.
- keep letting people hurt them.
- wonder why they hurt so badly.
- complain, blame, and try to control while they continue to stand there.
- finally get angry.
- become totally intolerant.
- feel very scared, hurt, and angry.
- are afraid to make other people feel anger.
- feel controlled by other people’s anger.
- repress their angry feelings.
- cry a lot, get depressed, overeat, get sick, do mean and nasty things to get even, act hostile, or have violent temper outbursts.
- punish other people for making the codependents angry.
- have been shamed for feeling angry.
- have sex when they don’t want to.
- have sex when they’d rather be held, nurtured, and loved.
- try to have sex when they’re angry or hurt.
- refuse to enjoy sex because they’re so angry at their partner.
- are afraid of losing control.
- have a difficult time asking for what they need in bed.
- withdraw emotionally from their partner.
- feel sexual revulsion toward their partner.
- don’t talk about it.
- force themselves to have sex, anyway.
- reduce sex to a technical act.
- be extremely responsible.
- be extremely irresponsible.
- become martyrs, sacrificing their happiness and that of others for causes that don’t require sacrifice.
- have an overall passive response to codependency–crying, hurt, helplessness.
- have and overall aggressive response to codependency–violence, anger, dominance.
- combine passive and aggressive responses.
- vacillate in decisions and emotions.
- laugh when they feel like crying.
- stay loyal to their compulsions and people even when it hurts.
- be ashamed about family, personal, or relationship problems.
- be confused about the nature of the problem.
- cover up, lie, and protect the problem.
- not seek help because they tell themselves the problem isn’t bad enough, or they aren’t important enough.
- wonder why the problem doesn’t go away.” (2)
Wow, that is quite a list—and it is not even the full list! Since all of us are human, I think all of us can find ourselves participating in at least one of those unhealthy behaviors. But, are we really codependent? Not really.
We are codependent if these items on the list are ingrained thinking and behavior patterns. These are behaviors that we do most of the time and they cause problems in our lives. So people who are truly codependent live their lives according to these behaviors. It is not just a phase.
Still these non-functional behaviors come out during affair recovery
Sometimes others can see our behaviors more clearly than we can our own behaviors. I do not know anyone who really wants to come to the terms with the fact that unproductive behaviors drive them. What I mean is that it’s not necessarily a happy feeling when you realize unproductive behaviors drive you. I don’t know anyone who is walking around saying: “I am so happy that I discovered today I have had a martyr complex for the past 40 years. Whoopee!”
No, it does not quite happen that way, does it?
Not everyone is codependent, even though a lot of people are. Like everything, codependence is not a black/white and either/or thing.
Even if someone looks at the list and can see themselves in every single point, what matters is the frequency of such behaviors. If these behaviors have become part of your core personality, you are a codependent.
On the other hand, if you engage in these behaviors very infrequently, you may not be a codependent.
The problem is that many codependents feel shame just by admitting they see those behaviors in themselves. And so, they will go right back into their cozy place of denial where they are perfect because the shame of such a realization is so terrible.
But, one of the worst part about codependents who refuse to see it in themselves is how they destroy their lives.
Cheating spouses and betrayed spouses alike can be codependents. Many times someone who is codependent at the core will have an affair if whomever they normally do the codependent dance with no longer meets that need. People who do this go towards what is familiar to them. The other person generally does the codependent dance better than the spouse.
Now, please do not misunderstand– not everyone who has an affair is a codependent. There are many types of people who have affairs and many types of affairs. People who most likely are caught in affairs can include: narcissists, sociopaths, people with borderline personality disorder, alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, people who have experienced childhood dysfunction, people in the throes of midlife crises, and even the garden variety ‘Church-goer’ who everyone believes is the last person to have an affair.
Or, if you were alive during the 1970’s, you will remember the Armor Hot Dog song that explains all kinds of kids like Armor Hot Dogs. Well, all kinds of adults like to have affairs, but I believe people with disordered characters are the most likely.
Then, there are the type of affairs. Many people have written about different types of affairs, so this is not the scope of this post.
The scope of this post is identify the behaviors that you believe might bring a spouse back, how many of those behaviors are based in codependence, and how most of all, these behaviors do not work.
They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
How many betrayed spouses do this and why?
That’s when codependence came to mind. And then passive-aggressiveness also came to mind. I started researching people’s experiences with this and found another good example on the Divorce Buster’s website by a man who calls himself 4myFamily. He took the high road for many years, during his wife’s affair, since he had young children. He tried the loving-kindness route and tried to treat his wife better and better. Of course, this just led to him receiving the opposite behavior of what he expected. His wife just became more open about her affair and even more sexually withdrawn from him. After years of being the perfect doormat, by his own choice, he woke up and said this:
Yes indeed, this is what it looks like to wake up.
Finding Your Inner Bad-Ass
The other day it hit me like a ton of bricks that our usual social rules of being kind, cordial, and understanding cannot work in a situation where there is an affair. In fact, they actually work against us and drive our wayward spouses into the arms of the other person.
Once again, whether it is politically correct or not, I am going to say there is a difference between men and women in this respect. In the case of male betrayed spouses, these kind and understanding actions drive a wayward spouse into her lover’s arms at the speed of light. I do not know of any woman who becomes more attracted to her husband if said husband allows her to walk all over him.
While I do not read romance novels, I once took a course in writing them because this industry happens to be a billion dollar industry and I was at one time contacted by several agents in this field. I just could not do it because I could not relate to it and found no pleasure in following their very strict writing formula. I like too much nuance and playing with timelines. Yet, this is the industry that makes the most money for publishers.
Millions of women choose to spend their hard-earned money on romance novels and it’s always smart to look at what people do instead of what people say.
The very formulaic plot of the typical romance novel appeals to many women. The plots are always the same and the characters are always the same. The only difference is where/when they are set and the different character tropes.
For example, the Twilight series is a romance novel series. 50 Shades of Gray is also a romance novel series. (50 Shades of Gray greatly disturbs me but that is another topic.) The Highlander Series is a romance novel series. True Blood is a romance novel series. They say that Jane Austen was the first true romance writer and really distinguished this genre from others.
Many women love the typical romance novel formula. While some women prefer moody vampires with perfect hair, others prefer stoic cowboys, and still others prefer a broad-shouldered, hunky man in a kilt galloping on a horse across the Scottish highlands. Anyhow, the leading men are all the same no matter if they are an emo vampire, a Marlboro man, or a Duncan Macleod. And apparently this “emo-vampire” trope has had so much success the real Count Dracula cannot get dates. Here is a little comic-relief that makes fun of the emo-vampire trope if you care to watch it:
Now back to the psychology of it all
Notice that these men in romance novels always start out as bad boys, or as outsiders, or as the handsome and mysterious stranger with come-hither eyes. And these men are generally a real pain in the butt to the heroine in the story.
Often, these men are former womanizers and it is the heroine’s love that is able to get that man to channel his desire solely into her. But, his desire is fickle and powerful and it is never easy for the heroine. Underneath it all, he is always a bit more powerful than her and even the most feisty heroines cave into these male heroes who are strong. The romance novel contains the perfect dance of push and pull—will he or won’t he—will she do it or not—will they see it or not…?
Let us extrapolate this psychology onto affairs, specifically the case where the wife is the wayward spouse. If a wife is having an affair, it is because she has been swept off her feet into some kind of fantasy world that she is projecting onto the other man. We all know logically that the other man often does not have anything on the husband. It takes a pretty nasty guy to lure a wife away and I have found many men follow a ‘bro code.’ (I wish women would do that for each other but most do not.)
In the case of the female wayward spouse, the other man has often triggered in her this very primal thing that many women desire. And this primal thing is based on the woman desiring someone who is more powerful, who is unpredictable, and whom she cannot control. True masculinity is confidence, inner-strength, the ability to be in control of all situations, and the ability to protect what is his. But it is his inner-strength that carries him and this is the energy he exudes. This is the type of man portrayed in romance novels.
Quite often, a husband stops portraying these things because they have been “domesticated.” And that is an entirely different topic. It is also NOT the fault of the husband. Being a great dad, a great provider, and keeping a family together is about predictability.
The other man is unpredictable and seems powerful because he skirts the rules of society by poaching another man’s wife.
So, when a woman cheats on her husband, the last thing a husband should do is continue to play the role of the predictable breadwinner. While he needs to be there for the sake of the kids, he should bring his wife’s affair out in the open, he should make her feel ashamed, and he should consult an excellent father’s right’s attorney. Yes, you read that correctly: a man needs to consult a father’s right attorney if his wife is cheating. I am not easy on either gender when they cheat and when a woman cheats the last thing a husband should do is lie down and take such treatment from his wife. If he does lie down or play the good guy, she will lose more respect for him and this will drive her into the other man’s arms. Is this politically correct advice? Heck no. But, it is how it is.
Then there is the female side…
Let’s contrast that with the typical heroine of romance novels. Sometimes she is a shrinking violet, but these days she is more often than not a feisty woman. The typical plot includes a spirited, self-sufficient heroine who doesn’t want a relationship, but who ends up falling for that bad-boy who was turned good-boy by her love alone.
None of the characters written in the typical romance series are doormats. Readers do not want doormat characters who bend and cower at the first sign of trouble. If plots were like that, the whole romance book market would end in an instant. Once again, these novels are written because they appeal to the basic psychology of many people.
One of the reasons wayward spouses have affairs in real life is because there is some kind of intrigue behind it all. (This is NOT or ever an excuse for affairs.) But, if some of the appeal of the other person is wondering what might happen next, a betrayed spouse cannot be a doormat. This type of behavior drives the wayward spouse into the other person’s arms because as far as a wayward spouse is concerned, this is the signal that they can have their cake and eat it too.
Therefore, playing the nice guy or the ever-suffering wife will not bring a wayward spouse back home. We teach people how to treat us. If a betrayed spouse does not find his or her inner bad-ass and stand up, the marriage may as well be lost.
But as always, this seems like counterintuitive advice!
Most people believe they can only be in the power position if they compete against the other person and show how good of a spouse they are to the wayward spouse. This simply prolongs an affair because the wayward spouse feels very powerful since both the other person and the betrayed spouse are competing for his or her affections. It also makes the wayward spouse lose ALL respect for the betrayed spouse.
It teaches the wayward spouse they can have their cake and eat it too and it gives them a heady ego boost. A wayward spouse feels all-powerful and almost God-like when two people are fighting over him (or her). The betrayed spouse must remove himself or herself from the equation and stop allowing themselves to be in second place.
This is why I talked about codependence in the beginning of the post. It is important to be reminded of what codependence looks like and also be reminded that it tends to be a default position for a betrayed spouse.
But, if you are to win back your spouse and save your marriage, you cannot take the stance of being understanding, being kind, or anything else because this is a typical codependent response. But most of all, it will get you nowhere and make you feel abused and used.
You must do whatever it takes to become empowered and to find your inner-bad ass!
Whenever a spouse has an affair, restoring a marriage relies heavily on how the betrayed spouse reacts to the situation. Even though it seems intuitive, if a betrayed spouse wants his or her marriage, he or she must find her inner assertive person. We teach people how to treat us. Most of all, life is full of times of suffering and this in unavoidable. At some point or another we have to choose whether or not we are going to continue to suffer for the actions of another. That is entirely up to us and only we can make that choice.
As always, never forget that you are not alone in this journey. There are many others on the same journey and many on this website who are passionate about helping you through your journey.
Do any of you have stories about finding your inner-bad ass?
(1) Codependency in the Marriage: A Betrayed Spouses Common Mistakes. From http://www.survivinginfidelity.com/healing_library/reconciliation/codependency-in-marriage.asp
(2) Beattie, Melody. Excerpt from the book Codepedent No More From http://will.tip.dhappy.org/projects/unsorted/project/media/text/Melodie%20Beattie%20-%20Characteristics%20of%20Codependent%20People.html
(Photo: Jason Clapps)