– “Doctor…I can’t believe my husband cheated on me—after so many years of happiness.”
Laura X. is a mild-mannered, attractive businesswoman who has been married for more than twenty years and has always bragged about her caring husband and good teenage children. In her latest visit to my office, she looked very distraught and whispered hesitatingly, avoiding my gaze. She confessed to me that she found out that her husband was having an affair with his secretary.
Infidelity in couples is almost as old as the world itself, perhaps only slightly less than the famous bite to the apple that triggered so much passion and eroticism in human sexual relations. Even though in our supposedly modern societies this issue has lost some of its more edginess, we still react with anger and frustration when we learn that our “significant other” was not faithful. The majority of couples still expect to engage in a monogamous relationship and avoid philandering.
Women are particularly vulnerable to the extreme disappointment and hurtfulness of infidelity as they usually are the most committed part of the couple. The ones that strive “to make it work.” They make countless big and little sacrifices to share their lives with another person. One of the more damaging collateral effects of this emotional frustration is the surge of second-guessing and guilt feelings in the aggrieved party to the conflict.
Laura X. asked herself if she was not really at fault for his transgression because she felt that she might be dedicating too much time to her household and had little spare time for her appearance. We always found her attractive and well groomed, without any sloppiness in her body and mind. We had to chat extensively with her to assuage her that it was not her fault at all. It was solely his. We must dispel these toxic feelings of guilt because they can affect the patient’s mental health.
One of the greatest disappointments we had in our childhood was the separation and divorce of our parents at a very early age in our maturing process. Eventually both my brother and I recovered. But we could never overcome a certain disdain for our father—who we loved and respected—due to the fact that he certainly had a clandestine relationship when he was still married to our mother. Oftentimes my dear mother Gladys wondered aloud if it wasn’t her fault that he had an affair; a few times even my grandmother Yolanda scolded her for not being more vigilant with her spouse.
Did I miss any of the signals? How could I be so distracted with my obligations to abandon him? Did I forget to use nice perfumes? Or sexy clothes? Did I abuse of the “headaches excuse”, eh? Perhaps it’s my fault too…Perhaps his fault is not as grave at it seems… The tremendous reservoir of feminine empathy can even sugar-coat the most egregious behavior. As Friedrich Nietzsche, a tough appraiser of the dark complexities of human behavior, once said: “the victim takes the whip out of the torturer’s hands and starts to strike himself.”
Self-flagellation.The ultimate indignity borne by the abused.
When they separated, our parents were barely in their thirties; both my brother and I chose to live with our mother. We stood firmly by her side and consoled her when she wallowed in her grief. We reminded her that it was our father’s fault. Not hers. Raising two children with limited financial means and with no family around entailed personal sacrifices that she squarely faced with stoicism and courage. Muchas gracias Mama!
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.