This Carolyn Hax column, “Getting past a spouse’s cheating requires honesty on both sides” has been in my Universal Bullshit Translator file for a few weeks. Had to oil up the UBT transponders to take this one on…
Hax is remarkably tone deaf on infidelity. In fairness, she’s just spewing the conventional Reconciliation Industrial Complex standard issue stuff — affairs can make your marriage all sparkly and new and better than before! Affairs are just a symptom of a bad marriage, they aren’t the cause. And the requisite false equivalency that both sides are at fault.
Honesty is required? Really? Honestly, I’m sorry you were out trolling on Craigslist. Honestly, I regret marrying you. Honestly, I’ve moved all your shit over to your fuckbuddy’s trailer.
Who doesn’t like honesty?
On to the UBT…
Dear Carolyn: I caught my husband cheating. We’ve started couples’ counseling. The counselor told him he needed to let me ask all my questions about the affair, and we had that conversation at home. I do feel better now, but he was evasive on a few of the questions: “Did you tell her you loved her?” (he dodged, unconvincingly), and “Who initiated the affair?” (he doesn’t know I know it was a lie to say she did).
How much of a red flag is this? Do I allow him to fudge some details so he doesn’t look like quite the glass bowl he was, or do I take this to mean his outward remorse and commitment to repairing our relationship are not as real as they mostly feel?
Dear After Cheating,
Remorse isn’t about how you feel, it’s about what he DOES.
What he’s doing is not answering your questions. Because he weighs his discomfort (assuming he feels shame) over your need for the truth (and your pain, which is much more considerable than his discomfort).
He’s an entitled glass bowl. (Asshole is such an ugly word. Cheaters aren’t assholes, they’re misunderstood pieces of crockery.)
Do you really need the truth? Hax doesn’t seem to think so. The ugly details, like he pursued her and loved her, tend to get in the way of
unicorn sightings reconciliation. The truth is pesky like that.
Is this a red flag? Depends on how much “fudging the details” you want to live with.
Why don’t you test that “outward remorse” with a credit check and a post-nup and get back to the UBT?
After Cheating: I can make a case for mercy because he’s apparently doing everything you and your counselor have asked him to, and compassion says you don’t have to insist he complete every step of his walk of shame.
Compassion says you don’t need the truth.
I can make a case for mercy because he showed you such mercy while unilaterally risking your health.
You don’t have to insist he complete every step of his Walk of Shame, just shut up now. Your insistence on humility and shared vulnerability is very upsetting.
However, the best chance your marriage has is for it to become something different from what it was before.
The best chance your marriage has is to transmogrify into a flying battle dragon! Where it can swoop over the misty forests of Shame, and slay every impertinent goblin!
Dragon, Sir? Where were you last Thursday night?
OFF WITH HIS HEAD! That will teach goblins to ask questions!
The before was something you thought was working and, most likely, largely took for granted. Probably true of both of you. And, the before is what got you here.
Taking each other for granted — trusting in that monogamous relationship you both committed to in front of friends and family, church and state — is what got you here.
You should never take commitments for granted. Did you feel safe? Shame on you.
The after can be something you’re actually glad you have even if you deplore the way you got it.
You look better with a twitch. Hypervigiliance looks good on you!
Herpes can be something you’re actually glad you have! Even if you deplore the way you got it.
It can be surprising in its intimacy — if, big if, you’re both able and willing to let it be raw in its honesty.
By “raw in its honesty” I am excepting “Did you love her?” and “Did you pursue her?”
And that points to your not dropping these last two truths.
Of course, I said it would be compassionate NOT to insist on these truths. But if you want to shit-kick mercy and everything…
One approach would be to point out his hedging and to say — calmly, since agitation tends to suppress truth-telling
It’s your agitation that makes him lie. Not his crappy character or vested self-interest.
— that it tells you he did say he loved her and did initiate the affair. Then you can say you’ve accepted these things and are ready to (work to) move past them, but you must hear him be completely honest with you. You have to know he can do it.
Then, you see.
Before he comes out with the truth, tell him you’ve already accepted it! No need for him to get raw, vulnerable, and honest because you’ve done the hard work examining your dishonesty and irrational belief in commitment!
Carolyn: Does it change anything if I definitely know (as much as I can) that their affair is over? They were co-workers, and he’s put in for a transfer, most likely at some cost to his future prospects there. So I feel better than I thought I would about looking forward. It’s mostly the looking backward that’s still kind of haunting me.
Putting in for a transfer will stop affairs! The Bad Co-Worker Menace must be contained!
His demonstrated character is kind of haunting me.
After Cheating again: I don’t think this information changes the answer any. The best way to go forward is to make sure there’s nothing behind you that feels unresolved. It’s not about whether she’s gone (though that helps), but whether he’s different — willing to admit the hardest possible things to admit. His doing that will help you see whether you and he can handle whatever else comes up in the future.
Will he admit the hard things that would be compassionate of you not to insist on and would accept immediately anyway?
I don’t know. Could you throw the softball a little more gently?
Re: Cheating: I cheated; my husband found out. I owned up. I answered all questions honestly and did everything I was asked to do.
Our marriage fell apart anyway — not because of the cheating but because the intimacy/honesty between us collapsed again, the very thing that drove me to cheat in the first place.
Cheating is a symptom, not a disease. Treat the disease.
Former Cheater: Amen, thanks.
I pistol-whipped an old lady; my husband found out. I owned up. I answered all questions honestly and did everything I was asked to do.
Our marriage fell apart anyway — not because of the pistol-whipping but because the intimacy/honesty between us collapsed again, the very thing that drove me to pistol-whip old ladies in the first place.
Pistol-whipping is a symptom, not a disease. Treat the disease.
Dear Former Cheater,
You’re a disease. Your ex-husband cured himself of it by divorcing you.
Dear Carolyn Hax,
Your infidelity advice sucks.