Then in waltzes Lori Gottlieb aka ‘Dear Therapist’ of the Atlantic Monthly.
While other bullshit artists are pickling sharks in formaldehyde or suspending themselves in glass cages over town squares, Lori Gottlieb is mindfucking Atlantic Monthly readers.
I guess we’re all supposed to gasp at the transgressive originality of her unexpected advice.
A woman writes in who’s been cheated on and instead of validating what a crushing experience that is and offer advice on what to do next, Gottlieb a) questions if it happened (gaslights) and b) scolds the woman for not being sufficiently curious about her husband (blameshifts).
I wonder if we could pickle Lori Gottlieb in a vitrine? Consider it my installation The Physical Manifestation of Bullshit in the Mind of a Chump.
Was that offensive? No! It’s ORIGINAL and unexpected!
Anyway… The Universal Bullshit Translator.
Woman writes in to Dear Therapist, married 50 years, 26 years ago they both cheated, but reconciled. Now her husband is carrying on with a high school “friend”.
But I just learned that for more than two and a half years, my husband has been having a phone relationship with a single woman with whom he went to high school. There’s been no sex, according to him, but he did take lunch to her at her home. He knew I was not fond of her, because she had expressed interest in him, and he said that he didn’t tell me about their communication because of how I would react.
Oh yes, it was just lunch. He was delivering salami.
When I asked, “Did you go out to lunch or anything?” he replied, “Never.” Then I asked whether he’d gone to her home and he said that he brought her lunch one time.
I am at a loss as to how to proceed. He says he loves me, but I have a huge hole in my heart. Trust is very important to me, given our past.
Lunch is the new Appalachian Trail. Sure, guy keeps his relationship with nearby woman a secret for two and half years because… singular lunch. They just chastely held hands over grilled cheese.
Is anyone buying this? Lori Gottlieb is.
I can imagine how painful it must be to feel betrayed again by your husband after working so hard together to establish trust and safety in your marriage. As for how to proceed, it will help to separate the circumstances of the earlier infidelities that you both engaged in from what’s going on now with your husband and the woman he went to high school with. To do this, let’s take a closer look at trust and what it means.
Dear Linda, you distrustful harridan…
You weren’t betrayed. You feel betrayed. Pay no attention to my grammar — I smother verbs because I care.
It sounds like after the infidelities 26 years ago, you together decided that trusting each other would mean “no outsiders allowed in”—as if by not allowing others in, you’d create a safe barrier around the relationship. But healthy relationships don’t thrive because of what does or doesn’t happen with people out there—they thrive because of what does or doesn’t happen between the two people involved. In other words, trust isn’t about keeping other people out; it’s about letting each other in.
It sounds like you meant “no outsiders allowed” in the don’t-fuck-them sense. Or spend 2.5 years phoning them under the pseudonym “Bob” to share lunchmeat.
But healthy relationships don’t thrive because of what happens with people out there — did he fuck someone? Do you have an abnormal Pap smear? An itchy rash? Irrelevant! What matters is that you let him in. With a safe barrier and lots of Clorox.
Letting each other in, of course, is a lot harder than keeping other people out, because letting your partner in requires a great deal of vulnerability. It’s so much easier to set rules about other people than to deal with the person right in front of you. And I have a feeling that what’s going on with your husband is less about this woman and more about something unsaid between the two of you.
I have a feeling that what’s going on with your husband is your fault. You weren’t vulnerable enough.
Broadsided? Hurt? Betrayed? Not vulnerable enough. Go stand in a snowbank without your clothes. No, still not vulnerable enough. Now cry.
In my work as a therapist, I’ve noticed that people rarely tell their partners exactly how they’re struggling; instead, they express their loneliness or fear or hurt in other ways. Which is why sometimes affairs are about an underlying issue in the marriage—a lack of connection, a feeling of being too merged or controlled, a mutual avoidance or inability to communicate, or an escape from ongoing conflict. Other times, infidelity is about something internal—long-standing issues with intimacy and vulnerability, unresolved childhood patterns, personal insecurities and questions of self-worth, or a reaction to a major loss. Sometimes people relieve untreated depression or anxiety through the distraction of an affair. Others are addicted to affairs, using them in the way others might use alcohol, drugs, food, or compulsive shopping.
In my work as a therapist, I’ve noticed that I ignore abusive behavior and focus instead on hypothetical reasons why an abuser may be abusing. Unresolved childhood patterns, personal insecurity, how much you suck.
When people feel betrayed,
Betrayal is a feeling. It can’t hurt you, like, say, a stolen bank account or chlamydia. Betrayal is all in your head.
they tend to be so wrapped up in hurt and anxiety that they lack curiosity about the person they feel betrayed by. At the same time, they’re so wrapped up in anger and self-righteousness that they lack curiosity about themselves.
Yes, the proper response to abuse is to be more curious about the abuser.
Put down your cloak of anger and self-righteousness and wear the burka of shame! I Am a Bad Wife Who Was Insufficiently Curious About Her Husband’s Unspoken Childhood Patterns.
They focus instead on the details of the betrayal: Was there a physical relationship, how much of a physical relationship, how many times did they talk on the phone, what did they eat and where?
Is there an affair partner stalking me? Is money missing from my account? What is this strange rash on my genitals? Why doesn’t my son look like me?
And getting caught up in the details—which can be painful and also elusive, creating even more unanswerable questions
Unlike Unresolved Childhood Patterns which are completely knowable.
—prevents the betrayed person from getting answers to the much more important question, which is: What’s going on with each of us?
These are imponderables you can bring to a therapist for $180/hr. Divorce is finite. Therapy not so much.
Which brings me back to trust. Being trustworthy means being honest, but it also means being able to receive your partner’s honesty. If your partner doesn’t trust you with his truth, he may create a situation in which you don’t trust him either—meaning, he may go underground with his truth.
He cheated because he doesn’t trust you with his truth.
I WIN THE PICKLED SHARK OF MINDFUCK!
Your husband gave you a key piece of information when you confronted him about the phone calls: He didn’t tell you about them because he was afraid of how you would react. You don’t trust your husband right now, but he may not trust you either, in the sense that he may not trust your capacity to tolerate his truth, were he to share it openly with you.
It’s Not What He Did, It’s Your Reaction To It.
Okay, this isn’t a very original mindfuck, the false equivalency blameshift (hey! you’re not trustworthy either! Even though you don’t fuck other people at lunch!), but let’s explore it in expensive 45-minute segments, okay?
What is his truth?
Do you give a shit? I think you should.
It may be that he feels constrained by the boundaries regarding “outsiders”—that the very protection you two set in place 26 years ago instead made things more dangerous, with unrealistically narrow parameters around even friendships with members of the opposite sex that started to feel suffocating. Marriages do well with boundaries that are neither too loose nor too tight—neither a vast ocean nor a cramped fishbowl, but a roomy yet contained aquarium. It’s possible that despite this woman’s interest in him, they really are just friends, and that it’s a friendship that he felt he had to hide from you because he knew you’d object.
It may be that his dick needs to wander. It feels constrained by the narrow parameters of its trousers. His dick suffocates.
It’s possible that he and this woman are really just friends. Which is why he lied about it for 2.5 years and didn’t invite you to lunch with her. Because secret friendship. You are a cramped fishbowl. She is a wild ocean shark. He is a suffocated harpoon.
If you allow for his truth—whether that truth reveals a friendship or something that went beyond that—you’ll find out what the relationship with this woman means to him.
I have zero suggestion about how you uncover this “truth” — GPS? Private eye? Conversations in a shrink office? — I just assume a practiced liar has a truth and that you are resistant to it. Be a mindreader! Be vulnerable!
Maybe as he ages and faces his own mortality, it’s important to him to have a connection to his past—to someone who knew him growing up, who knew his parents when they were young. Maybe he’s been struggling with waning self-worth or power, a fear of losing his identity or charm or vitality, as people sometimes do when they age, and being admired by this woman feeds his ego or helps him cope with the loss of his youth. Maybe he’s getting something that’s missing in other parts of his life—feeling seen, understood, respected, enjoyed. Or maybe it’s another reason entirely. But you won’t know if you focus on the betrayal instead of being receptive to the truth of his inner experience that he felt he had to hide from you.
Maybe he’s an asshole and you invested in an asshole. Oh no, that’s too direct. I need $180/hr theories.
Be receptive to the truth of his inner experience. Also ask Jeffrey Epstein why 14 year old girls? Is it the perky tits? Is swapping human beings like trading cards enjoyable? What does Alan Dershowitz look like naked? A defrosted ham?
There’s nothing like feeling loved and accepted for who you really are to draw people together. What you learn from these conversations will most likely bring the two of you closer if you create the conditions of trust in which to have them. Marriages, at least the ones people tend to enjoy the most, are dynamic and fluid, shifting over time—embracing, rather than resisting, change. That’s because love, at least the kind that pushes us to grow, is incredibly durable. It sounds as if the two of you have that kind of durable love. Now all you have to do is nurture it by making room for each other’s truth.
Marriages, at least the ones people tend to enjoy the most, are ones where people hide their affairs and the chump pretends it never happened. Some people call that rug sweeping — I call it fluidity.
Let him have his dalliances with Lunch Lady. There’s nothing like feeling loved and accepted!