Can you tell me your theory about emotional affairs?
My husband had an emotional affair two years ago. It lasted a couple of months, with two D-Days on my part, by checking both his email and then his voicemail. Supposedly it has been no contact between them for this whole time. I do check his email and phone to verify. But something inside of me is nagging. The trust is gone. I see him in a different light. He is loving toward me, but a workaholic as a lawyer so we don’t have much alone time. I have a young son and don’t want to initiate a divorce because I “couldn’t forgive a mistake” or was too “punishing.”
I’d appreciate any insight you have. I do consider myself a chump.
You could initiate a divorce because he’s a blameshifting asswipe. That’s completely acceptable.
Toto, you’re in a difficult position many other chumps have found themselves in — feeling chumped, but without enough evidence to feel justified in divorce.
Now, we can attack this problem two ways. The first would be to focus on getting the evidence you need to come to some sort of burden-of-proof tipping point. To do that, you go into marriage police overdrive — install a key logger on his computer, put a GPS on the car, attach a voice activated recorder with velcro under his seat, or just hire a private detective. Chances are that “nagging feeling” will result in some sickening evidence.
The other way to attack this problem is to realize that you have enough evidence already to Trust That He Sucks. Put the focus back on yourself and off What He Might Be Doing for a moment — is this relationship acceptable to YOU? Do you feel respected? Cherished? Loved? Do you trust this man?
When you’ve already seriously considered going into marriage police overdrive — key logging, GPSing, VAR, etc. — you need to face the fact that the trust is gone. Do you want to live like a Soviet spy?
Oh, but we can’t divorce someone because we don’t trust them! Scary ground, isn’t it? Because the minute you go allow yourself to feel vigilant, you’re doubting yourself. The mindfuckery pops into your head. “It was all a MISTAKE.” “Why can’t you FORGIVE and quit PUNISHING” him with your doubts? He SAID he had to WORK LATE.
And like a good chump, you take it on yourself. The problem is you and your punishing, untrusting ways. The problem couldn’t be him and his affair. No, that was a “mistake” (singular) and you are a Bad Person Who Cannot Forgive.
Well, let’s go with that whack narrative for a moment. Okay, you’re a bad person who is punishing him with your doubts. Hey, that’s a legitimate reason to divorce! This relationship does not bring out your best self. Being in this marriage makes you a hyper vigilant harpy who lives in constant anxiety that she’ll be betrayed. Here’s a thought — maybe outside this marriage, you might be a person who can relax and feel safe again.
But this whack narrative is missing one thing — his contrition. He betrayed you. He saw your hurt and upset, and given that information, he continued to hurt you and lie to you, thus bringing about D-Day 2.
Now, we can believe one of two things. Busted a second time, he gave up his affair and has been a good boy ever since. OR we can believe that he went underground with his affair. The email you have access to isn’t the email he uses to have affairs and neither is the phone. These are easy workarounds.
I tend to the believe he went underground because of statements like you “couldn’t forgive a mistake” and you’re “punishing” him. That’s blameshifting. And people who shift blame have shit to feel defensive about. The authentically remorseful, on the other hand, own their shit. “I betrayed you, and you have every right to feel flinchy. What can I do to make you feel safe?” That would be a shit-owning statement. “Why the fuck aren’t you over this?! Quit punishing me!” would not be a shit-owning sentiment.
So cheating or not cheating, you’ve got a husband who appears to be unaware of how damaging his emotional affair was, how it hurt you, and destroyed your trust in him. Very best case scenario, you have a willfully clueless husband who doesn’t care about your feelings.
Can you work with that? From where I sit, I don’t think so, because you’ve given me no indication that he’s helping you heal or owning his shit.
So what’s my “theory” about emotional affairs? I think they are destabilizing to a marriage and disrespectful. I think even if they stop at “just” emotional, they can be a form of abuse. To keep you off-balance, to goad you into pick me dancing, and to endanger your sense of person safety. Do that shit long enough, it erodes your self-esteem, and he feels he can control you. All forms of abusive entitlement, IMO.
Cynical Chump Lady thinks 9 times out of 10, emotional affairs are what cheaters cop to when you haven’t caught them in a physical affair. Adults like to have sex. Most men do not invest themselves in another person they’re attracted to unless they want to fuck this person. They don’t hold hands and read Kirkegaard together. They don’t go to hotel rooms for Bible study. They aren’t swapping Grumpy Cat memes because they’re buddies — they’re doing the mating dance.
Emotional affairs are courtship. Courting another person while married to you is either a deal breaker for you, or it isn’t. I have written elsewhere, that as unicorns and recovery go, I think emotional affairs might have a better chance of recovery because it hasn’t crossed the line of endangering your health, or risking pregnancy/paternity. But I think they’re damaging all the same, for the reasons I stated above. At the end of the day it is YOUR call what YOUR deal breakers are.
The fact is, whatever he’s doing, he doesn’t appear one bit sorry about it. That’s your real problem, Toto. Time to trust that he sucks.