I thought that the next post I wrote would be about birthdays, d-day anniversaries, survival and reconnection. That post is for another day.

I have a blogging friend, Not Over It,  who has spent a year trying to put her marriage back together after finding out about her husband’s six year affair. He has decided she is torturing him by being hurt and their marriage counselor appears to think that she should be over it by now – that her devastation is her way of punishing her husband. That whole idea makes me furious enough that I would like to punch both her husband and her therapist (and I’ve never actually punched anyone!)

Then yesterday morning at work, I got a phone call from my husband, who said in a very serious voice, “Thank you for not hurting me!” My baffled response was “What?” When he opened his iPad, a news item popped up about a woman’s response to the discovery that her husband had been unfaithful –“Inappropriate Relationship May Have Been Motive for the Attack”. Apparently, a woman in California drugged her husband, tied him to the bed, cut off his penis, fed it to the garbage disposal, and then called 911. When the police arrived, she unrepentantly insisted “He deserved it.”

Or how about the Houston woman who followed her husband to a hotel, confronted his mistress, and then ran over him three times in the parking lot, and left the car parked on top of him, informing police that it was an “accident”.

Or the woman who emailed a detailed and lurid description of her husband’s affair – with evidence – to all of his coworkers  including his bosses – and the affair violated a morals clause in his contract.

Or the man who found out his wife was cheating on Thanksgiving Day and called to tell the OM’s wife. Not getting her, he left a detailed message…which played out loud in the middle of the taking of the Thanksgiving portrait that included 3 generations of family. I believe that this one was actually an accident – who still has an answering machine that plays out loud as the message is recorded??

Or this:

I don’t actually know if the sign is real or photo shopped, but you can tell that Stephen’s life has taken a turn he is NOT going to enjoy!!

OK – these are examples of punishment. Overwhelmed with grief or sadness after an affair is not a punishment for someone else – it is an emotional disaster for the one feeling it.

Punishment is knowing that your husband, lover, and best friend has turned to someone else – that they forgot who you were, that they believed they loved someone else, that they warped their view of the past you shared in order to justify their actions. Punishment is suffering endlessly through no fault of your own – but searching endlessly to figure out how you caused it. Punishment is attempting to maintain a façade of normalcy at work, in social gatherings, with family – to keep up with responsibilities when all you want to do is curl up in a ball under the covers (or in some cases under my desk). Punishment is attempting to swallow your own pain and confusion to help someone you love deal with their own conflicted emotions.

I really don’t believe that a marriage can be fully restored to health and happiness after infidelity if the wound it causes isn’t drained and fully healed for both spouses. It just festers and causes problems in other areas – emotional distance, immersion in activities that exclude one another, swallowed bitterness that pops out at inopportune moments. A close friend and her husband have had sex twice in the last nine years – no physical reason, just a lack of interest in sex on his part. She is an attractive red head with big blue eyes and a nice figure, a bouncy, loving personality, and she has tried everything – lingerie, counseling, emotional involvement with someone else, which he put a stop to because he loves her and knows that she loves him more than anyone else. He is not, however, interested in sex and is not willing to discuss the issue. So, she spent most of her forties, moving into her fifties with a husband but NO sex life. I’m sorry, but women in my family generally live into their eighties or nineties, and I intend to have a passionate love life for the entirety of my life!

My best friend takes every vacation with her sister and leaves her husband at home. Sometimes their kids go and sometimes they stay at home with their dads, but the dads are not invited. If I am exploring New England or New York, or spending a week at the beach, or going to Harry Potter World or Disney World, I want my lover and best friend with me. I couldn’t spend the money for a cruise, or a long weekend at a B & B in the Texas Hill Country, or a week at a spa because that takes money from family activities. I want to share the enjoyable moments of my life with the most important person in my life.

On the other hand, I do actually have a life and friends and engage in activities that don’t interest, and therefore don’t involve my husband. Another close friend’s husband had an affair 20 years ago while she was taking care of her dying mother, homeschooling, and doing the bookkeeping for his business. The entire small town knew about it before she did, and it was blatant enough that women began calling to tell her what was going on. She was a very young, very Catholic stay at home mom with three little girls, and she insisted that it end, and then swallowed it, never discussed it again, held her head high, and constructed a very calm, deeply loving façade that she has maintained this entire time. He has always acted very loving and very attentive, but as they have aged and perhaps more importantly as their children have aged and gradually left home, his attentiveness has turned to hovering and a complete unwillingness to let her out of his sight. In the last six months, her youngest daughter got married and moved out of state, and her middle daughter and grandson moved out and to the other side of the country. He is ten years older than she is, looks ten years older than that, and she doesn’t look nearly her age.  If she actually does go anywhere – including a girls only birthday lunch or a wedding shower – he calls three or four times to make sure she is there and that she doesn’t need him to come and get her. She is starting to feel smothered and resentful, and I think he is desperately afraid she will find someone else if he lets her out of his sight! Unresolved issues??

I just do not see how ignoring a deep wound helps heal it. Any thoughts??


22 comments on “Punishment

  1. Caroline says:

    I think you are right the wound cannot be left to fester and then hope that all will be OK.

    I discussed this at length with my Life and Relationship Coach and he says part of the healing process for couples is to get the injured party to voice all of their angst.

    He seems to have a great deal of success in helping couples through this traumatic phase.

    We never tried it. My Ex was and is too hell-bent on his affair.

    • Devon says:


      I think Stephen is right – I never wanted revenge, but I was determined from the beginning because of my own family history that nothing would be swept under the rug, that there would be no topics that were out of bounds, that we had to deal with the wound and with the causes. I was not willing to accept less. My husband desperately wanted to repair our marriage, agreed to everything I wanted, has always had great strength of character and has faced and been open with his emotions, but in this situation it has taken TWO YEARS for him to actually follow through – to really examine and discuss and to go to counseling consistently. He is now on a journey similar to the one you are on – exploring his own past and attitudes and working to make changes in his relationship with the world, not just in our marriage. While the last two years – and really the two years before that – have been hard and pushed me to the breaking point, the process has been much harder on him. That is why I didn’t give up – I could see that he was struggling, trying, and then would be overwhelmed and just withdraw.

      I admire you tremendously, and I am sorry that your Ex ran instead of facing himself. I think that is the hardest part – my husband chose another woman, which seems like it should be a reflection on my worth as a woman and I still struggle with that, but his choice really had nothing to do with me….whenever I get caught in that spiral, I think of all the beautiful young celebrities whose husbands’ cheat on them. I still can’t really make sense of how something that (even with the best outcome) destroys the foundation of our life can have so little to do with us???? It’s not like a meteor crashing into our house or terrorists attacking….

      Hugs to you!!

  2. Yep you are right….burying them does not work. X apparently buried her true issues ….and while I thought we were healing after her first affair, she was looking for justifications to get out again. She even admitted to people that she was only telling me what she thought I wanted to hear.

    On the topic of punishment….all of your points are sooooo valid. Especially “Punishment is attempting to swallow your own pain and confusion to help someone you love deal with their own conflicted emotions.” This was the most hurful on my case as i was the support for X who cheated on me. I was the one that helped her forgive herself when I had nothing left for me. And when she went back to him 4 years later, the betrayal was 10 fold.

    When the cheating spouse claims “torture”….for having the affair brought up, it may be a true feeling for them. It is likely their overwhelming guilt OR their overwhelming selfishness.
    In most cases, blaming the one that they hurt is a manner of defelction. It takes the focus of of what they did and finds a way to blame the failthful spouse for “sabotaging” the healing.
    One of the reasons can be worked on. The guilty, and truly remorseful cheater can be helped and although hard to do, they need to be helped with understanding and an open heart. The people deflecting because they are selfish really (IMHO) are not going to deal with their responsibility. They may give lip service, talk about their role and their sorrow….but they don’t really have empathy for what they did.

    All that being said, there is an element of punishment that we betrayed generally want to enact. It’s our need to see them have to pay a price. It can be subtle. It is probably justified. It may be only internal…and manifest as how we even interpret any action that the cheater takes or what they say.
    Unfortunately, it is also real. There is an old saying that goes….”would you rather be right….or happy?”

    For us who were betrayed, seeing the “cheater” get off withouth any penance, minimizes their apologies. It minimizes their guilt. It minimizes their reasons. Of course we WANT to minimize their reasons…because THEY are the ones that cheated….but that attitude can also cause further divides.

    It’s so hard. There are no perfect answers on how to heal from this. The faithful spouse is betrayed and now they have lost trust …and they have lost confidence in themselves. But it seems like it is their responsibility to hold the head highest and help the cheater until the cheating spouse can honestly see what pain they have wrought.

    It sucks. But it is usually true.

    Peace to you

    • Devon says:

      You are right – revenge is just destructive. I think that in most cases the betrayed spouse who chooses revenge, also generally chooses divorce. A marriage may come back from one injury, but not if both sides are causing injury rather than healing. I’m feeling very lucky right now because I held on long enough and received enough encouragement to keep trying that now my husband seems fully invested in the process of recovery and in making it a stronger and more joyful partnership than it was before. I will admit that I am still SCARED because the progress still feels very fragile.

    • Devon says:

      You are also right in that I would rather be happy than be right!! At the same time, your story has, from the moment I read it, served as confirmation that I had to comfort AND push. I never doubted from the beginning that he was in great emotional turmoil before the affair and in much worse turmoil after the affair. I recognized that talking about it, thinking about it, even trying to comfort me really caused him great emotional distress, but I was so scared that if we didn’t work it all the way through, in a few years we would end up here again. He would withdraw and act like nothing had happened, and I thought he had put it behind him and was not thinking about it any more. Instead, through this process, I discovered that it was constantly in his head, that he was constantly struggling with it, but not in a “Why did I make this choice?” or “How can I help my wife understand how much I love her?” but more like a repeating tape of destructive angst – “I hurt my wife so much, I’m an awful person”, “My daughter won’t love me any more if she finds out!”, “I used that poor woman for sex, and she is devastated, I’m an awful person”. It took him a year and half and two counselors to get over the last one, and really it was when a close friend listened to him, and when he was finished, the friend just shook his head and said, “Dude, you are so naive – she saw you on Facebook, saw that you have an interesting career and work for a university close to her hometown and targeted you as husband material. She knew you were married, could see all of the aspects of your life and decided she didn’t care about your wife or family, and then she just pulled out all of the stops that made her hard to resist because you didn’t see what was happening until it was too late.” As I said, I feel very hopeful now, but it is fragile hope, very fragile!

      • I wish I had pushed more sometimes….coupled with understanding. I became so wrapped up in helping X forgive herself after her first affair with J…that I absolved her of responsibility. When she said things to me in her journal entries such as “each day that passes I’m thankful that we still have each other. I love you!” (we wrote journals to each other as a way of expressing, where the other person could read and process without pressure)..
        I wanted so badly to believe that I just took this at face value. I did not realize I was supposed to dig deeper…and when I did she would accuse me of not believing her (deflecting behavior??).

        It would have been so worth it for all of us to work through this, I love her and I hate her. My family is broken. Our daughter feels abandoned by her mother. Our son is both getting used to the new situation and lamenting that we are not together still.
        And now, for all intents and purposes, X and I are enemies. this is hard to reconcile internally because I miss her and the wholeness of our family.

        I’m so happy for you that you have continued to work through things and been willing to stick by, through better and worse. This struggle is tough. It leave so many scars. I admire you.
        Peace to you

  3. Lady E says:

    Mmm, interesting post. It reminded me how in the early, desperate days of our separation, I suddenly understood how some people lost it and did insane things they later regretted following the discovery of an affair or a brutal break-up.
    I can understand the insane thoughts of revenge, the primal urge to hurt back, but I cannot condone acting on them. It’s way too destructive for everyone, and some of your examples are just gruesome.
    I know that life coaching insists on the need to not punish your partner when they hurt you, otherwise things spiral out towards negative stuff.
    I think you are tremendously brave to be honest, and hope you find the strength to keep going. It’s probably really hard, but worth it in the end

    • Devon says:

      I can honestly say that I never wanted to punish my husband – he was too distraught about what he had done that even in the month before I knew what had happened that I was in comfort mode. Although I came very close to leaving, it wasn’t until the end of this summer, almost two years after the end of the affair, because he wasn’t willing to do the work to heal HIMSELF, which meant that I couldn’t heal either.

      I too believe that revenge is simply destructive. I did, however, consider taking a step this summer which could have been considered revenge against the other woman. We do not live in the same town, but she simply would not stay out of our life for more than a month or two at a time – and every attempt to reconnect with my husband has been more serious, with the last attempt actually involving my work. I sent a very direct email with enough detail to show that my husband had shared everything with me and that I wanted her to stop attempting to insert herself in our life. She is an ardent member of a very Fundamentalist Christian church which believes that women of any age should not even go on individual dates with a man until she is engaged to him, so I have a feeling that contacting a man she knew was married, sending sexually explicit messages, having phone sex with a married man the first time she talked to him since she was 16, and then spending a weekend having sex with a married man the first time she had seen him in thirty six years would not sit well with her church. After having her repeatedly tell me that I cannot judge her, that she has been forgiven because she is washed in the blood of the lamb, I will call her minister, describe the situation, and ask for his intersession if she attempts to insert herself into my life again. It has been 3 months, so perhaps she is finally gone. I really do not want to embarrass or complicate anyone’s life, but I feel like I have the right to be left alone! Still, would that be revenge?

      • I think that, if she inserts herself into her life again, you should definitely get support of the kind you suggest. Even if she did get forgiveness for some past transgression, it doesn’t cover future ones!!

      • The Sicilian in me says GO FOR IT!!! LOL. The Buddhist says “let her own fate be her ultimate judgement” (because she’ll probably be reincarnated as a dung beetle.)

        I actually would not think of this as revenge though as much as exposing her hypocrisy.
        But she sounds unstable…and you may want to leave that pot unstirred.

      • Devon says:

        SD – My point exactly – and how many times can she ask for forgiveness for the same behavior before her hypocrisy becomes apparent even to herself??

        LFBA, I actually think her fate in this life may be more miserable than a later life as a dung beetle. If what she wants is to be happily married with her own home to a man she admires, she is failing miserably. In one of his first real attempts to work on healing us, J read a book by Katie Costain who insists that the cheater must write a very simple breakup letter and mail it to the OP. Both counselors were adamantly opposed, as was I, as all three of us felt that she would take a breakup letter as a sign of hope.

        I have always thought she was just desperate and overly romantic, but the last two incidents were enough of an escalation that your judgement of her stability may be right.

      • Re: “how many times can she ask for forgiveness for the same behavior before her hypocrisy becomes apparent even to herself?”

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but she didn’t actually ASK for forgiveness. She told you she’d been given it in a religious rite that ordinarily involves facing up to the person that was wronged, not seeing a third party and getting third-party absolution. (My guess is she’s lying about the abolution anyway.)

        If she goes near him again, don’t stand by and let her make things hard for you without fighting back.

      • Devon says:


        She didn’t ask for forgiveness from ME – that isn’t necessary for her to be forgiven….if fact, if I understand her perspective, she doesn’t have to ask for forgiveness because Christ died for all of our sins, and by believing, she is absolved. My extended family are all members of a fairly strict Protestant church that takes a fairly literal view of the Bible, but it puts an equal emphasis on personal responsibility and moral behavior. For them, “Washed in the blood of the lamb” doesn’t do you any good if you are having sex with someone else’s husband – their take would be that you are going to hell without some massive repentance.

        I really wish someone could explain this to me – even a belief in predestination involves the idea of free will and that your behavior is an indication of the status of your salvation! I sort of like LFBA’s reincarnation as a dung beetle idea!

        No – I decided a year ago to not let anything go – teaching high school taught me that lesson. With some teenagers, ignoring their behavior allows them to regain control and cements a level of respect. For others, ignoring behavior leads to escalation and then escalation again – those kids have to be squished firmly and politely EVERY SINGLE TIME until they understand that they will never get the response they want. The Other Woman is definitely one of those – ignoring her always led to escalation. I have now reached the point that she can share the pain and embarrassment if she won’t stay away!

      • In My past studies of religions, It seems that the Christian belief system for salvation falls into two distinct guidelines. Admittedly…this is a very simplistic view and only stated this way right now for the sake of keeping it simple here.
        It seems though that the two basic tenets are that there is salvation based on acts…and salvation based on belief (or claimed belief). If I were a Christian, I would definately favor the former belief system…that one’s acts on earth are what judgement is based on. I have had numerous conversations with people of the other style, that acts matter little if belief is not there. SO…as long as one believes, they are going to be ok. Not looking for an argument or a debate or to stir up a religious discussion that is not in the framework of this forum because I know this is an overly simplistic view of it. It is however what I have encountered since I began asking questions when I was 5.

  4. Hi,

    Re: “I just do not see how ignoring a deep wound helps heal it.”

    I agree. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an infidelity, unreasoning rage, bitter arguments, or anything else, fixing the problem requires a true apology and a sincere attempt to deal with whatever the issue is.

    Frankly, I don’t think ANYTHING can resolve a 6-year affair. There might be some way of eventually accepting a short-term fling, but a multi-year affair is so big and awful that I’m thinking “Game Over” for that one.

    For the friend that has only had sex twice in the last nine years, maybe at some point the marriage has turned into a friendship? Great friends don’t have sex (well, occasionally it happens between friends). Couples do. A marriage is partly a sexual union. It’s not the only thing it’s about of course. But without sex at all (and without some reasonable medical reason for the problem), is it still a successful marriage?

    • Devon says:


      That was actually my point to my friend – SHE is definitely not happy about the situation and feels rejected, but had settled into it, expressing the idea that she had no choice – that is the way it is. My point to her is that she she may have 30 or 40 years left of living to do – it seems like an awfully long time to give up a big part of who she is. She is a very intense, very emotional, very passionate person – about every aspect of her life, so settling into roommate or best friend status with her husband seems like giving up! She had gone to counseling a few times, to deal with mild depression – but had never told her counselor about the main issue in her marriage. I pointed out to her the same issue that I have emphasized with my husband – a counselor (or a doctor) can’t help you if you don’t tell them the WHOLE truth…it’s just a waste of time and money!

      • Wow! It seems very odd to go to the effort of seeing a counselor and then leaving out a KEY part of the puzzle. It certainly needn’t be the status quo. It is certainly something that needs attention. Whether it be counseling to resolve the sexual problem, or even as a dramatic a shift as divorce, it doesn’t seem right that the rest of her life be essentially sex-free without a serious attempt to deal with it. Poor her…

  5. Can someone please explain the need to stay and work on forgiveness? Forgiveness does not roll back time and undo the affair. I can’t live like that, but I can move forward and feel compassion. It’s hard to get over the anger, but it can happen…I just don’t want to be living in that marriage while the anger is being dissolved.

    • Devon says:

      Until it happened to me, I would have sworn that all of my husband’s belongings would have ended up in a burning pile in the driveway if he had an affair. Actually I never thought it would happen – we were happily married, and had always agreed people were insane for getting into a new relationship before they got out of their current one. And then…I forgave my husband for the affair almost immediately because I understood what happened. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have anger about his choices and all of the lying that went along with it. Bottom line – I love him very much, he loves me very much, he screwed up really badly, is really sorry, and is finally working very hard to work through the issues that caused the problem. I could either ditch the love of my life, and spend who knows how long trying to heal the devastation, pain, and anger alone, or I could at least attempt to work through those emotions with the person who caused them. Instead of looking at moving towards a new relationship with a stranger, I decided to take a stab at developing a solid relationship with someone I have loved for thirty years.

    • Dear Edmonton T.
      After X’s first affair was revealed…I KNEW it must have all been one mistake and I was looking for my own culpability that drove her to think the affair was a reasonable action. I did love my wife more that I thought I could love someone. We had by most accounts, a very loving relationship with normal pressures that come with family and time together. So, that first night when she asked if I wanted her to leave, I told her that I just wanted my wife/us back.
      The next months were hard but we seemed to make steady progress for about 18 months. I was never really angry with her (angry with myself a whole lot though)…but I was full of hate for her affair partner as I had known him for 25 years at that time.
      So for me, there was no question that I wanted my marriage to work.
      Had you asked me what I would have done if she had an affair before it happened…I would have regaled you with the typical “kicked to the curb” response. But once it actually did happen…all I felt was the “want” to make us whole again. Whatever it took was worth it for me.

  6. I have now read every blog post of yours to attempt an understanding. While my reaction was different than yours, I do understand why you chose to work it out. The depth of love for him must be profound. I hope he recognizes that and values it.
    Thank you for sharing. You amazing story. I have gained powerful insight and profound truth that has cause me to stop and reflect.

  7. kitty says:

    I enjoyed your post very much. I completely agree about the need to completely, truthfully and honestly talk about the issues which included a third party being involved. (Cheating can be emotional, not only physical imo.)

    It is very hard to recover from this, but if forgiveness is the reason for another chance, that individual is VERY brave.. a bit like story of the mother with three children.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s