When it comes to describing the actual pain of betrayal, words often fail us. The pain of being betrayed is a visceral experience and your body feels it and experiences it.
By Sarah P.
Language is powerful; they say the pen is mightier than the sword. In many cases, such axioms are correct. However, for words to have power and be mightier than the sword, both concepts and experiences must have an adequate language to describe them.
However, there is an issue that often crops up for me. The issue is this: sometimes it is a challenge to find the right words to describe how being betrayed feels to those who have not been betrayed.
When it comes to describing the actual pain of being betrayed, words often fail me. The pain of being betrayed is a visceral experience and your body feels it and experiences it.
In fact, there are many cases where a betrayed spouse has not found out that their spouse has had an affair, but their body already knows it.
After you find out about your spouse’s affair, the devastation is hard to put into words.
Your mind is aware of the pain, but when you have just found out the person who you were supposed to trust the most in the world, has been carrying on a secret life, your body actually feels the pain too.
Now, great authors are often able to write about a topic that emotionally moves us. Great authors are able to describe what it is like to be in the middle of India and to see a child pick up dirt-covered food and eat it. Such images move us to compassion.
I have been writing for many years about infidelity; my opinions have evolved from my earliest blog posts. But, here is the struggle: I have never found the words that can cause a wayward spouse to feel a fraction of the pain a betrayed spouse feels.
But, I will try.
The Pain of Betrayal
Imagine one day you wake up and you find yourself 30,000 feet above the earth and you are free-falling. You don’t know how you got into this situation. But, you feel sheer terror. You instinctively start grabbing everything on your body to feel for something like a parachute cord. You search frantically for this cord that will save your life. You never find the cord.
Soon, you pinch yourself and tell yourself, “It’s all a bad dream. It’s all a bad dream. Isn’t it? Wake up. Wake up. WAKE UP!!!”
You do not wake up.
With each second, you grow closer to the ground below. You have not woken up yet and you have not found a parachute cord.
A minute later, your body smashes into the earth at 500 miles per hour; your body is shattered into a million pieces.
It was NOT a bad dream and you just died. Everything that was you was obliterated into formless and scattered pieces.
D-Day feels like that.
Now, on D-Day, you may not die a physical death, but you die an emotional death and that emotional death shatters you into a thousand pieces.
That is what it feels like to have your spouse cheat on you.
Does that metaphor of free-falling against your will resonate with you?
If it doesn’t, how about this metaphor?
Another Metaphor to Describe the Pain of Betrayal
I am going to use stream trout and their imaginary “trout tribes” to describe the pain of infidelity.
Imagine you are a large, beautifully-patterned, rainbow trout, swimming happily in a clean and clear Idaho river. Humanity is far away from you and all you have to contend with are some large boulders in your stream and sometimes the occasional bear that will dip its paw into your stream.
Life is blissful, especially in the late-afternoon when the sun filters into the water at the right angle and gives everything a delightful glow. All is well with the world.
Except for one thing.
Sometimes you have heard whispers about these awful things that walk on two legs. You have heard the legends of the two-legged beast. These legends strike terror into your heart. These two-legged beings appear to dwell on land, breathe air, and many of them like to capture you and your kind.
The chief of your trout tribe has told everyone that these two-legged, air-breathers come in two kinds: the first kind is very annoying and most certainly ruins your day. This two-legged creature thinks it’s funny to play tricks on the trout tribe. He casts what appear to be flies that you can eat into your river. If you bite one of his pretend flies, he will pull you out of the water and he will stare at you for a while as you gasp for air. But, pretty soon, if you are lucky, he will throw you right back in your river. The entire experience shakes you, but you are still alive.
But, the chief of your trout tribe has also warned all of your kind about a second type of two-legged beast. The problem is, if you meet this second type of being, there is a high chance you will never come back to your stream at all.
This second type of two-legged being uses very colorful objects that attract your attention and arouse your curiosity. If you bite one, something sharp will penetrate your face and you will be pulled by your face out of your stream. For most in the trout tribe who experience this event, they will never return.
Everyone in your trout tribe knows the older trout with the scarred face who escaped one of these two-legged beings and lived to tell the tale. He had told everyone in the trout tribe that this second type of two-legged being likes to eat the trout tribe. This two-legged being is the stuff of trout nightmares. The elder trout always warn the younger and more curious trout to stay away from these two-legged beings; for they may never return.
The younger trout often ask the chief of the trout tribe why these two-legged beings are so cruel. The chief of the trout tribe has no answer. All he can do is educate all the trout in his tribe about these two-legged beings who grab trout by the face and eat them. He educates those in his trout tribe to avoid these two-legged beings at all costs: to avoid anything that looks too shiny and interesting, to ignore a fly that looks too easy to catch, and to look for the long, dark shadows that the two-legged beings cast upon the river.
Despite all of the trout’s tactics to avoid being harmed by these two-legged beings, many from the trout tribe will be taken. No trout can truly tell if they will run into a two-legged being or know the full intentions of that two-legged being. Is he the one who will ruin your day or the one who will kill you?
Now, let’s imagine that you are a trout and you have just been hooked by the face, pulled out of your stream, and you start gasping for air. Suddenly the world before you looks very different and it happened in an instant – without warning, really.
Then, come sounds you have never heard. Suddenly, a searing pain runs down your abdomen. You twist and turn with all your might, but all of your internal organs have just spilled onto the ground. You die wriggling on that line, trying to get free.
Once you are free of your body and as you float up into the sky, you see a bunch of two-legged beings feasting on what used to be your earthly form. You do not understand. Nothing makes sense. You are heading for a trout stream in heaven to rejoin all the elders who passed before you, but you will never be able to understand why this happened to you.
When you reach your trout stream in heaven, you will tell the elders your story. You will tell them how painful it was to experience all of your organs spilling onto the ground right before your eyes. You will tell the elders that these vicious two-legged beings did not even wait until you took your last breath, before they cut open your belly. You will tell your trout elders that the cruelty of these two-legged beings was as relentless as it was meaningless.
A caveat: These two stories are metaphors; do not take them literally. I am not trying to start a philosophical discussion on whether or not trout have tribes and go to a trout heaven when they die. I am also not trying to criticize people who fish or make a statement against fishing.
I am simply trying to come up with some examples that are more or less universal and could be easily understood. But, I chose these two metaphors because of their visceral nature.
There is nothing more visceral than having your abdomen opened while you are still alive and aware of your surroundings. There is nothing more visceral than finding yourself free-falling from a great height with no parachute.
The pain of betrayal is such a visceral experience that arguably is felt more inside your body than inside your mind. At least this is how it is on D-Day and directly following D-Day. The feelings that will rise inside your body do not have words to describe them. This trauma is felt and it is wordless.
How would you describe the pain of betrayal as a result of an affair?
Do you relate more to the image of being pushed out of a plane against your will or being a trout pulled out of his mountain stream?
Is an Affair Fair?
Well, the obvious answer is that affairs are NOT fair.
But, this is not always obvious to cheaters, which always astounds me. If you add to that all of the well-known affair-apologists that exist, the experience of a betrayed spouse is hardly acknowledged.
That is the height of unfairness.
In this section, I am going to address some of the things that affair-apologists say and see if these statements stand up to basic reason.
But, before I get started on how unfair affairs are, I wanted to tell you a humorous story about how children perceive unfairness. I hope to give you a deep, belly laugh.
No matter how many new generations are born, kids still are able to “say the darndest things!” Can you believe it?
The story I am going to tell you was NOT funny at the time and at the time, I helped the mom save face. However, many years later, I find this story very funny. I have always wanted to tell this story somewhere because of its utter absurdity.
Since this post is so depressing, let us lighten it up a bit, so that I have an excuse to tell this off-the-wall story. I give you permission to laugh, even if you laugh in that shocked kind of way because you do not know what else to do. Coffee spitting is also permissible.
When my son was three-years-old, I took him to a Mommy and Me music class taught by a professional musician.
A woman who emigrated from Germany, who also had a son my age, quickly befriended me. She was a very nice woman and she had a very adorable son. But, her son was quite vocal. He did not like to sing, he just liked to interrupt class constantly to point out unfairness.
I will refer to her son as the “no fair kid.”
Her three-year-old spent the whole class time talking about everything he saw and everything he saw also happened to be unfair in his mind. And the things that were unfair were things that simply would not hit most kid’s radar.
For example, one day, my son had a cute raincoat with frogs all over it. The “no fair kid” complained the whole time about not having matching frogs on his raincoat. This child was not poor; his father was a neurosurgeon.
But, he was angry because his mom had not thought to buy him a raincoat with identical frogs. The fact that my son had frogs on his coat ruined the “no fair kid’s” day.
Another day, the “no fair kid” complained about the fact that my son had green shoelaces while his own shoelaces were white.
Then the “no fair kid” started interrupting music class to point out something random that was unfair:
- That’s unfair that the girl is sitting by the big window.
- That’s unfair that that boy over there has a colored marker.
- That’s unfair that her music book has a different cover than mine.
- That’s unfair because someone drew a horse on a piece of paper that the child over there is holding.
- That’s unfair because it’s raining today.
- That’s unfair because the sun is too bright in that area of the room.
- That’s unfair because he has puppy socks. Where are my puppy socks?
- That’s unfair because that little girl has a postcard of a kitten. Where is my kitten postcard?
- That’s unfair because his eyes are a different shade of blue than mine.
- That’s unfair because that little boy has a pet swan.
And on and on and on…yes, it was REALLY like that.
Pretty soon, the “no fair kid” was known to the whole class and the music teacher was constantly trying to gently stop his interruptions and go back to the fun music, kid’s instruments, and dancing that we did.
I do not know how the music teacher was able to maintain her cheer; I suspect she had to super-glue the sides of her lips to her cheeks to maintain a permanent smile. Now, I say this in gest.
Then one day, the “no fair kid” dropped the verbal equivalent of a nuclear bomb of embarrassment. That is, if utter embarrassment could transform into a nuclear bomb, the “no fair kid” had dropped it. This was the kind of embarrassment that makes someone want to crawl into a bomb shelter and never come out again.
If you are still reading this post, this is probably the time where you should put your hands over your face and peek through one of your fingers, the way people do when they see horror movies.
Here is what the “no fair kid” did. (Please put your hands over your face now…)
He yelled and stomped to get the attention of the entire class.
You see, the “no fair kid” felt that he had experienced the most horrendously unfair event of his life and he had to tell everyone about it. The most unfair moment of the “no fair kid’s” life had happened right before he came to class that day.
The “no fair kid” yelled, “I opened the door when mommy was going to the bathroom. Do you know what Mommy was doing? Mommy was peeing out of a GIANT ball of fur! Do you know how unfair that is? I do not have a giant ball of fur to pee out of. Mommy has a giant ball of fur she pees from and she won’t let me borrow it. No fair!!!”
There was no taking it back… the train had already left the station.
And the poor music teacher frantically started her music CD and cranked up “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to ungodly decibels. Mary Had a Little Lamb was playing so loudly that it was probably heard miles away and possibly interrupted the flight patterns of airplanes flying over the area.
The poor German mom grabbed her son and quietly exited the room, never to be seen again. For all I know, she could be hiding in a bomb shelter to this very day.
Life is not fair, is it?
The “no fair kid” is probably well into his teen years now. I wonder what he finds unfair these days? I would guess that he would find it unfair that another teen his age might be in possession of an expensive drone that is capable of flying over clothing-optional beaches on the French Riviera.
Now, onto the serious stuff…
Let us talk about the unfairness of infidelity… where do I even begin?
Well, one of the number one reasons that affairs are unfair is because there are so many well-known affair apologists. These affair-apologists make lots of money on their books, write for elite magazines, give TED talks, and are seen a credible sources among the masses. (Of course, one of my best friends recently informed me that the masses are asses, so that’s an explanation as to why affair-apologists are so popular).
Why is that unfair?
Because affair-apologists make a lot of money just from being affair-apologists.
But, what is worse is that affair-apologists undermine the absolute devastation of a betrayed spouse.
Instead, they focus on the aliveness of the cheater. The betrayed is seen as some dowdy, grump trying to keep the cheater from living his life authentically and lovingly.
You see, the cheater just has so much love to give to others; that love makes him or her feel alive. The betrayed is being a Negative Nellie and preventing the collective evolution of all cheaters so that they can find themselves… in all sorts of other people.
Affair-apologists hijack the experience and the narrative of the betrayed spouse and these affair-apologists often attempt to frame infidelity as something that could indeed be a positive thing for a marriage. Sometimes they can be caught saying that is truly is the best thing that can happen to a marriage.
That’s like saying that best thing that happened to the two World Trade Centers was to have airplanes run into them. I do NOT make light of the victims of 9/11 or the events of that day. Even though it happened 18-years-ago, this heinous and indescribable event is seared into my mind as if it occurred just yesterday. But, using that image is another visceral image. I do not know anyone in my personal circle who can discuss the events of that day without a tear in their eye.
Why? Because it has affected us at a visceral level.
When we think of it, our first instinct is to get a lump in our throat and a tear in our eye. It’s an experience that has found its way into our bodies, even if we were not there when it happened. Still, our bodies understand it and that is why we cry; we fail to find the words to adequately describe one of the worst events in recent, human history.
That is also the pain of infidelity.
It’s a pain that our body knows more deeply than our mind knows it.
Let’s go back to the affair-apologists and why they are harmful…
If a cheater gets ahold of one of these books, he or she will use it to gaslight their betrayed spouse. Affair-apologists have given them the blue-print for the biggest mind-game of all: gaslighting and making a betrayed spouse to feel crazy, which often brings an innocent person to the brink.
Here is a little ditty from The New Yorker about Esther Perel. Indeed, it is a veritable siren song for those attempting to normalize infidelity:
“The couples therapist and relationship guru Esther Perel believes otherwise. In her new book, “The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity” (Harper), she argues that we would be better off coming to a more compassionate accommodation of our unruly desires. Decades of administering to adulterers and their anguished spouses have convinced her that we need “a more nuanced and less judgmental conversation about infidelity,” one that acknowledges that “the intricacies of love and desire don’t yield to simple categorizations of good and bad, victim and culprit.” Our judgmental attitude toward our transgressions does not make us any less likely to commit them, she argues—“infidelity has a tenacity that marriage can only envy”—and it keeps us from understanding why we transgress. The desire to stray is not evil but human…
This approach, Perel believes, does little justice to the “multifaceted experience of infidelity.” It demonizes adulterers, without pausing to explore their motives. It focuses on the traumatic effects of affairs, without acknowledging their “generative” possibilities. “To look at straying simply in terms of its ravages is not only reductionistic but also unhelpful,” she writes. Affairs can be devastatingly painful for the ones betrayed, but they can also be invigorating for marriages. If couples could be persuaded to take a more sympathetic, less catastrophic view of infidelity, they would, she proposes, have a better chance of weathering its occasional occurrence. When people ask her if she is against or in favor of affairs, her standard response is “yes.” (1)
Before I knew anything about Esther Perel, I had listened to one of her TED talks, but I had not read her books and I was not aware of her stance on infidelity. I had falsely assumed that her view was worth considering. I no longer feel this way.
When I found out that she was an affair-apologist, my view on her changed dramatically. I believe her ideas are doing a great disservice to betrayed spouses.
Why? Because her views could very well be the views that push a betrayed spouse over the edge. When a betrayed spouse is pushed over the edge, one of several things can happen: someone kills themselves, someone kills another, someone has a mental breakdown, and families are always affected. Or, all of those things can happen. Does that sound like affairs cause “aliveness?”
Esther Perel projects a façade of being an evolved European who is in stark contrast to us Puritanical Americans who just are too simple-minded to understand. Esther identifies herself as Jewish. While I do not know if she practices Judaism, I am well-aware that she identifies as Jewish.
Judaism acknowledges an affair as the worst crime that can occur against another person. This is in addition to the commandment that tells us NOT to commit adultery. Judaism has very specific and detailed views about infidelity, what constitutes infidelity, and it even has laws that help people avoid infidelity.
Esther Perel does not represent the Jewish view on infidelity. Her view is very Parisian. When I lived in France and once I lived outside of Paris, the French were very conservative and did NOT have a laisse faire attitude toward adultery.
The free-love that the French are famous for appears to be something that is Parisian, but not necessarily French. Also, not all Parisians have moral values that are in the gray area. French women are famous for their loyalty to their families; not their disloyalty.
Next, I wanted to analyze some of Perel’s writing by changing only a word or two. I am going to test the logic of some of Perel’s ideas by putting them in a different context by changing a word.
Esther said: “Our judgmental attitude toward our transgressions does not make us any less likely to commit them, she argues—“infidelity has a tenacity that marriage can only envy”—and it keeps us from understanding why we transgress. The desire to stray is not evil but human.”
Now, let’s imagine that Esther were talking about arson: “Our judgmental attitude toward our transgressions [of committing the act of arson] does not make us any less likely to commit them, she argues—“arson has a tenacity that marriage can only envy”—and it keeps us from understanding why we transgress. The desire to commit arson is not evil but human.”
If you told that to a judge who was NOT inebriated, do you really think the judge would let you go?
Let’s take another quote and see if it holds up to logic:
Perel said: “This approach, Perel believes, does little justice to the “multifaceted experience of infidelity.” It demonizes adulterers, without pausing to explore their motives. It focuses on the traumatic effects of affairs, without acknowledging their “generative” possibilities. “To look at straying simply in terms of its ravages is not only reductionistic but also unhelpful,” she writes.”
Here is my rewrite, but I am going to use the crime of murder as a substitute:
“This approach, Perel believes, does little justice to the “multifaceted experience of murdering another.” It demonizes murderers, without pausing to explore their motives. It focuses on the traumatic effects of murder, without acknowledging the “generative” possibilities of murder. “To look at murder simply in terms of its ravages is not only reductionistic but also unhelpful,” she writes.”
But, hey I could be wrong.
Perhaps murder has generative possibilities that I have overlooked. Maybe I was mistaken, but silly me thought murder killed people.
Now, I am well-aware that I was deviating from Esther’s argument by changing the topic. However, I wanted to point out how her argument would look if we removed the word infidelity and replaced it with the names of specific crimes, like murder. In doing that, Perel’s argument falls apart quickly and her words sound absurd.
Some might say it is unfair to replace the word infidelity with the word murder. However, I will say this:
- When a person has an affair, they are murdering the marriage covenant.
- When a person has an affair, they are murdering their relationship with their spouse.
- When a person has an affair, they are murdering their spouse’s trust, self-esteem, and core sense of self.
- When a person has an affair, they are murdering years of memories.
This is why I do not hesitate to occasionally talk about infidelity as a metaphorical murder.
Viewed in this light, it is easy to see that the nonsense that affair-apologists peddle is unfair to the betrayed spouse. Affair-apologists very subtly frame the cheater as the good guy and the betrayed as the bad guy. This is reprehensible.
Question for you about the pain of betrayal:
- How do you describe the pain of being betrayed?
- Do you have words for it?
- What was your experience of it?
- Have you struggled to find the words to describe your pain to your wayward spouse?
- Does your wayward spouse listen to you or does he or she gaslight with the best of them?
- Has the pain of being betrayed been more of a visceral experience for you or has it been abstract and intellectual?
- Or does the pain alternate between these states?
- Did your body tell you there was an affair before D-Day?
- After D-Day, how was your body affected? Did you stop eating? Were you constantly panicking?
- How have you been this week?
- Have you been pondering any particular ideas that you want to share?
Top Photo: Snazzo
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