If you’ve spent any time on reconciliation boards, you’re familiar with Joseph’s Letter. It was written by a member of a defunct forum “BAN”, but appears at Surviving Infidelity and Marriage Builders.
It’s a plea from a man (Joseph) to his wayward wife to please answer questions about her affair instead of doing the ol’ rug sweep. “I don’t remember” or “Let’s stop bringing this up and move forward” or “Telling you would only hurt you more.” Rug sweeping is the nice word for it. Minimizing, lying, and mindfucking are other terms. We don’t really know what kind of mindfuckery is going on in Joseph’s marriage, only that Joseph’s wife has been less than forthcoming and it’s torturing the poor guy.
Joseph’s letter is invoked as as sort of holy relic in unicorn circles. A resource by which chumps should model themselves when approaching “waywards.” (The nice word for cheater. Fuckwit, liar, fraud are other terms.) That is to say, approach with deference. Assume the very best qualities in your cheater — that deep down they’re good people who love you as much as you love them, and are every bit as invested in the marriage. Acknowledge that the cheater’s pain is equal to your pain. Tell them how much you love them.
Joseph’s letter is quintessentially chumpy — kind and forgiving, and glazed with more spackle than an army of dry wallers. When I read it, my heart breaks for the man. He clearly has a big heart and he’s trying to share it with someone he delusionally assumes cares for him.
But it also makes me want to slap Joseph. “DUDE! SHE DOESN’T WANT TO TELL YOU BECAUSE SHE PREFERS YOU DON’T KNOW!” That’s what her ACTIONS say. Know why she doesn’t tell you the details? Because she doesn’t want you to know them. It’s that simple.
But Joseph persists. Maybe if I explain this thing like a jigsaw puzzle missing a few pieces, she’ll understand! Because that’s what she lacks — insight! Did it every occur to Joseph that maybe his wife prefers the power seat of knowledge over him? That talking about it makes her uncomfortable, or calls into question her self regard, so she puts avoiding her discomfort over his pain? Did it ever occur to Joseph that his wife is a selfish bitch?
So today I thought I’d put Joseph’s letter through the patented Universal Bullshit Translator.
I know you are feeling the pain of guilt and confusion.
Joseph, your cheater isn’t “confused.” She knows exactly what she’s doing. Does her guilt pain her? Perhaps, but not as much as you knowing about her affair and nattering on about it pains her.
I understand that you wish all this never happened and that you wish it would just go away. I can even believe that you truly love me and that your indiscretion hurts you emotionally much the same way it hurts me.
Put down the spackle, Joe. Her affair doesn’t pain her the way it pains you — it’s NOT EVEN CLOSE. She enjoyed the affair — that’s why she did it. And went back for seconds and thirds. Ego kibbles and cake are awesome. That’s what her actions say — she had an affair because she wanted it, not because it “pained” her.
I think in your chumpy little brain you have to imagine your wife is in the same kind of pain you are, so there is some kind of justice. Gee, it’s all just one big clusterfuck and we’re all hurting! NO — she DID THIS TO YOU. And yes, herself. But for her to want understanding for her self-inflicted pain is like the guy who murdered his parents wanting clemency from the court for being an orphan. Fuck her, Joe.
I understand your apprehension to me discovering little by little, everything that led up to your indiscretion, everything that happened that night, and everything that happened afterwards. I understand. No one wants to have a mistake or misjudgment thrown in his or her face repeatedly.
Well, that’s true. No one wants their mistakes thrown in their face. But this wasn’t a mistake (singular) or misjudgment (singular) — this was an affair. It’s betrayal. It was completely pre-meditated, unlike a mistake — which is spilling wine accidentally on a friend’s sofa. You pay the cleaning bill, and yes, you hope no one mentions it again. But what you’ve got Joe is a much bigger mess to clean up. If you want to reconcile, she’s going to have face it (excuse me “have it thrown in her face”) for YEARS — because that’s how long it takes to heal. If it ever heals in reconciliation. (The Universal Bullshit Translator is very skeptical.)
No one wants to be forced to ‘look’ at the thing that caused all their pain over and over again.
“Their” pain, Joe? There you go assuming again that she feels pain the way you feel it.
I can actually see, that through your eyes, you are viewing this whole thing as something that just needs to go away, something that is over, that he/she doesn’t mean anything to you, so why is it such a big issue? I can understand you wondering why I torture myself with this continuously, and thinking, doesn’t he/she know by now that I love him/her? I can see how you can feel this way and how frustrating it must be. But for the remainder of this letter I’m going to ask you to view my reality through my eyes.
And there’s your problem, Joe. She will NOT view reality through your eyes. To do that she’d have to have EMPATHY, which she just demonstrated through an affair that she is lacking. Now, I know to reconcile, you have to believe that this lapse in empathy was temporary, brought about by the fun of naughty sex and such, but consider that it might go deeper, that lack of empathy might be who she IS. That’s her character. And character changes very slowly and painfully and isn’t brought about by heartfelt letters, but things like consequences. The most empathy deficient? Consequences don’t even get through to those idiots. They keep doing the same stupid shit over and over again.
You were there. There is no detail left out from your point of view. Like a puzzle, you have all the pieces and you are able to reconstruct them and be able to understand the whole picture, the whole message, or the whole meaning. You know exactly what that picture is and what it means to you and if it can effect your life and whether or not it continues to stir your feelings. You have the pieces, the tools, and the knowledge.
You can move through your life with 100% of the picture you compiled. If you have any doubts, then at least you’re carrying all the information in your mind and you can use it to derive conclusions or answers to your doubts or question. You carry all the ‘STUFF’ to figure out OUR reality. There isn’t really any information, or pieces to the puzzle that you don’t have.
Joe, you don’t share a reality, or values, or much else. There is her reality and your reality. She’s looking at this through the lens of ME, and you want her to see her world through a lens of OURS. She doesn’t do that. She’s got her own agenda. Not telling you the truth is about her gaining advantage over you. It’s for her own protection, so you won’t know the full truth about your life and what she did, so then you won’t impose consequences.
Now let’s enter my reality. Let’s both agree that this affects our lives equally.
Let’s agree that leprechauns run the state lotteries. Let’s agree that I’m Baroness Penelope Snootypants and I live in a castle. Let’s agree that Tori Spelling is a Rhodes scholar.
The outcome no matter what it is will affect us both. Our future and our present circumstances are every bit as important to me as it is to you. So, why then is it okay for me to be left in the dark? Do I not deserve to know as much about the night that nearly destroyed our relationship as you do? Just like you, I am also able to discern the meaning of certain particulars and innuendoes of that night and just like you, I deserve to be given the opportunity to understand what nearly brought our relationship down.
Of course you deserve to know, Joe. It’s just that your wife (as you dimly suspect) doesn’t think you deserve to know, because you’re a lesser being. A chump. Not the sort of fabulous, deserving person she is. This isn’t a contest of equals here.
Also, you’ve got to let go of the idea that it was “a night” — singular. Where’d you get that nugget? Let me guess — the wife who’s lying to you and not filling you in on the particulars, right?
To assume that I can move forward and accept everything at face value is unrealistic and unless we stop thinking unrealistically I doubt our lives will ever ‘feel’ complete. You have given me a puzzle. It is a 1000 piece puzzle and 400 random pieces are missing. You expect me to assemble the puzzle without the benefit of looking at the picture on the box. You expect me to be able to discern what I am looking at and to appreciate it in the same context as you. You want me to be as comfortable with what I see in the picture as you are.
No, she doesn’t expect you to be able to “discern what you are looking at” or “appreciate its context.” That’s spackle for SHE IS STILL LYING TO YOU.
What she expects is for you to shut up about it already.
When I ask if there was a tree in such and such area of the picture you tell me don’t worry about it, it’s not important. When I ask whether there were any animals in my puzzle you say don’t worry about it, it’s not important. When I ask if there was a lake in that big empty spot in my puzzle you say, what’s the difference, it’s not important.
The puzzle is a nice metaphor, but this isn’t a children’s game. You’re not seeing a tree or animals. You’re not seeing unprotected sex, or multiple partners, or all the emails where she tells her affair partner what an asshole you are.
Then later when I’m expected to understand the picture in my puzzle you fail to understand my disorientation and confusion. You expect me to feel the same way about the picture as you do but deny me the same view as you. When I express this problem you feel compelled to admonish me for not understanding it, for not seeing it the way you see it.
You wonder why I can’t just accept whatever you chose to describe to me about the picture and then be able to feel the same way you feel about it.
She doesn’t care how you feel about it. You aren’t expected to understand the puzzle. That’s the POINT.
So, you want me to be okay with everything.
Now you’re getting it, Joe. Keep connecting those dots.
You think you deserve to know and I deserve to wonder.
Yes, that’s it exactly.
You may honestly feel that the whole picture, everything that happened is insignificant because in your heart you know it was a mistake and wish it never happened. But how can I know that? Faith? Because you told me so? Would you have faith if the tables were turned? Don’t you understand that I want to believe you completely? But how can I? I can never know what is truly in your mind and heart.
Oh, she totally understands that you want to believe her completely. That’s how you manipulate chumps and abuse their trust. They want to believe.
I can only observe you actions, and what information I have acquired and slowly, over time rebuild my faith in your feelings. I truly wish it were easier.
So, there it is, as best as I can put it. That is why I ask questions. That is where my need to know is derived from. And that is why it is unfair for you to think that we can effectively move forward and unfair for you to accuse me of dwelling on the past. My need to know stems from my desire to hold our world together.
It doesn’t come from jealousy, it doesn’t come from spitefulness, and it doesn’t come from a desire to make you suffer.
Joe, it’s not jealousy when your wife is fucking another man. That’s righteous anger at being betrayed. Who told you those feelings were “spiteful”? You deserve to be in a marriage where your wife isn’t fucking another man in secret. You don’t have a desire to make her suffer? Well, she sure as hell doesn’t care if YOU suffer.
It comes from the fact that I love you. Why else would I put myself through this?
Because you’re a chump and you’ve got spackle issues.
Wouldn’t it be easier for me to walk away?
Walking away isn’t “easier.” It takes a huge amount of guts. Keeping your 401K and your family together is the societally accepted path. But I’ll give you this, doing what you’re doing is self-inflicted torture and much more painful. You should consider walking away for your sanity and self respect.
Wouldn’t it be easier to consider our relationship a bad mistake in my life and to move on to better horizons?
Easier? No. Healthier? Yes.
Of course it would, but I can’t and the reason I can’t is because I love you and that reason in itself makes all the difference in the world.
Love the all-powerful spackle. Joe, some love isn’t good for us. Some relationships are toxic and it doesn’t matter how much you love the person, you need to walk away, because they don’t love you back with mutuality and respect. They love you as a superior loves an inferior. They love that you’re of use to them. They love the kibbles.
Love yourself more, Joe and burn this letter. Stop spilling your guts to a woman who demonstrably doesn’t give a shit about you. You’re better than this.
This column ran previously.