I find myself truly saddened, perplexed, outraged, confused? Am I going crazy? or is this really the philosophy around infidelity and how can we possibly challenge it when it’s so ingrained?
Recently I picked up a book (2015) by people I greatly admire Julie and John Gottman “10 Principles for Doing Effective Couples Therapy.” (Okay I didn’t read the whole book but went right to “cheating.”) Brand new book and chapter 9 is “Suspend Moral Judgment When Treating Affairs.”
Does exactly the drill addressing the PTSD, damage, pain etc. — then page 170:
“We witness the devastation affairs cause not only to partners but to their children as well. We know that affairs result from choices affair partners make. They don’t happen due to the randomness of fate. Yet we are admonished to not take sides. Crucial to our understanding is that affairs don’t usually begin in a vacuum.
When John and I examined the data of hundreds of couples with affairs, he discovered no less than 24 precursor steps that lead up to and predicted future betrayal. John’s careful analysis of affair-ridden couples revealed that they often start out happy and in love. But over time, poor conflict management skills take a toll. Either THEIR fights grow ugly or there is no fighting at all. Eventually both patterns lead THEM to shut down and avoid discussing disagreements altogether. After a while THEY shun any honest conversation and each other. Gradually THEY descend into canyons of loneliness. Just when THEY feel the worst after falling down into the canyon floor THEY discover a lovely flowing river a sweet young woman at the office. A sympathetic listener in the cubicle next door. The guy they keep running into at the gym. Before long there’s an Other, the one who listens, the one who laughs, the one who sympathizes, the one who brings fresh croissants every morning. Soon they are swept up by the waves of romance. They begin to compare their current mate with the Other. Blinded by the Other’s Brilliance and beauty the mate is left far behind in the dust. Rushing downstream they plunge headlong over the waterfall and into an affair.”
And then the Gottmans go on to use Caryl Rusbult and the honorable Shirley Glass and her famous marital “window” images. I highlighted Gottman’s use of THEY and how quickly it shifts from the one person (who willfully makes a decision to cheat) to suddenly it’s THEY and the unaware partner is held equally accountable?
I suspect every therapy book I now take in hand will gladly have the unknowing partner share the burden of deceit as being the root cause (by not paying attention to the cheating partners ‘loveliness” in just the “right way?”) I witness legions of betrayed spouses that — all never left the room! — or opened another “window,” outside of the relationship. Yet we still get handed the end bill, and blame for a cheaters unending narcissism and cowardice. Lovely.
Sorry, I feel so impotent and angry now that I see so clearly every where I look, the cultural gaslighting and Exuberant Defiance of Individuality and reckless domestic abuse by stealth so broadly supported. God forbid you blame the rapist for the rape and hold character disorders to account. We are morally puritanical in that case.
I want to write to the Gottman’s but don’t even know where to begin. I actually feel crazy sometimes.
You want to know where to begin? Leave an Amazon review. (I just linked to the book for you.) You bought the book, now review the book. Say exactly what you just wrote me — you admire their work, but when it comes to infidelity you think someone dropped them on their heads. They’re blameshifting and buying into the whole Chump Drove Me To It nonsense.
Yes, people can be in terrible marriages. And yes, sometimes chumps suck. And yes, people can make each other miserable — but it is what you choose to DO about it that matters. THAT is a measure of your character.
You might be a righteous asshole. You might insult my mother, kick me in the shins, and vote for Donald Trump. I can’t then steal your wallet and claim your asshole-ishness drove me to it. You made me very angry, Jane! I’m now going to charge $50,000 worth of pinecone elves to your account! You DESERVE it. I think you need to own what you did to make me so mad that I stole your wallet!
Are you a victim of crime? Or am I victim of you being a jerk?
If I don’t like you being a jerk, I have choices — like cutting you out of my life. Or attending therapy with you to discuss your asshole qualities. If I steal your wallet — I didn’t give you a choice. I just took something I thought I was entitled to.
Cheaters make UNILATERAL decisions about chumps’ health and welfare.
THEY discover a lovely flowing river a sweet young woman at the office.
No THEY do not. Only one person fucks the lovely flowing river — the cheater.
(And seriously, these PhDs should be ridiculed for that sentence alone.)
Hey, I don’t have a PhD, but let’s take this further — if the Gottmans truly believe that infidelity is so harmful as to give people PTSD, why are they making a false equivalency with poor “conflict management skills”? Being a lousy communicator is no excuse to risk my health with STDs, or my finances, or my children’s home life, or sexually humiliate me.
Also I call BULLSHIT on “Suspend Moral Judgment.” The Gottmans DID judge — they judged the chump as deserving of infidelity and equally at fault. By ascribing ownership of infidelity to chumps, they are blaming chumps. You want to blame someone? You just made a moral judgment, asshole.
Now then, to your question about changing the conversation around infidelity — you wrote to me. Okay, fine. I’m publishing your letter — to an audience of CHUMPS. We are preaching to the choir here. You want the blameshifting to end? Then SPEAK UP. There is an entire Chump Nation here — you people have voices and fingers to type on social media. Start questioning this shit. Take the conversation into the public sphere and get out of the CL ghetto. I cannot do this alone. You can buy my book — it would certainly help to get one published chump perspective out there, but it’s going to take more than that. It’s going to take chumps getting uppity.
Rise UP, Chump Nation!
Rerunning this column in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.