The Coming Divorce Decline? I’ll Believe it When I See It

(Image/Conversational Hypnosis Academy)

It looks and sounds like awesome news—like everything I want for my little boy and everyone else’s kids.

The divorce rate in the United States dropped 18 percent between 2008 and 2016, according to Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociology professor who is predicting a long-term decline in the number of divorces in his recently published analysis of U.S. Census Bureau survey data, titled “The Coming Divorce Decline.”

Whoa! Holy shit! An 18-percent improvement is amazing!

But it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel true. Not to me.

And admittedly, I may be one of the least-qualified people to evaluate that fairly.

After all, I’m probably in the top 1% of People Who Hear and Read a High Volume of Crappy Marriage Stories. The anecdotal evidence I have of sad and angry people writing to me is not even close to being statistically relevant. There are few reasons for happily married people to ever read anything I write, or to write with tales of their awesome, healthy relationships.

Even still. I can’t shake the doubt.

That’s because we’re measuring the number of documents filed at our nation’s courthouses rather than measuring the quality of human relationships.

You know how scientists go to great lengths to conduct objective scientific testing, confirm hypotheses, and then publish their work in scientific journals which document several years of research only to have a bunch of know-nothings totally dismiss their findings within five seconds simply because the scientific data inconveniently works against their own beliefs or opinions?

I REALLY don’t want to be like those people. It’s gross.

To be clear, I am NOT challenging Cohen’s divorce rate analysis, so much as I’m challenging the idea that there’s any legitimate correlation between Cohen’s work here, and the ACTUAL health and success rate of marriage and long-term romantic relationships.

Sorry to Piss In Your Cheerios

Everyone who gets offended by my occasional use of bad language should absolutely skip the next paragraph. (Yes mom, even you.)

Remember the scene in “Pulp Fiction” when Mr. Wolf shows up to help the guys dispose of Marvin’s dead body after Vincent accidentally shot him in the face in the back of their car? Several minutes later, Quentin Tarantino’s Jimmie compliments the guys on a clean-up job well done, saying “I can’t believe this is the same car,” to which Mr. Wolf replies with an all-time great movie line that totally applies to this divorce-statistics conversation: “Well, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet.”

The divorce rate is dropping because fewer people are getting married, and demographically speaking, the people who ARE getting married are the least likely to divorce (people with money and the most education), Cohen said.

And that’s awesome. ANY good news RE: marriage and divorce is welcome.

The problem is that this in NO WAY indicates that anything is actually getting better.

1. Fewer People Are Getting Married

First of all, this data analysis begins in 2008, which coincides with the worst economic crisis in all of our lifetimes. Mathematically speaking, for several years, the MOST amount of people had the LEAST amount of money and financial security in global history. Think that might be a factor in the number of people who decided to postpone marriage (OR divorce, because they couldn’t afford to)?

You know what else happened during that span? A cultural paradigm shift RE: homosexual couples and marriage. I’m only speculating, but I literally know of five—FIVE!—elderly divorced adults with children who ended their heterosexual marriages because they were gay and had been hiding it for years.

People have gone to great lengths to hide who they are. It’s sad that some people are so afraid of what others will think of them that they’ll go to such lengths to conceal something that’s true about them.

Anyway—and again, this is all me theorizing out of my ass and not rooted in legit data science—I think a semi-significant reduction in the future divorces will come simply from gay people not entering straight relationships because of societal or family pressures to do so, only to have it all fall apart later for obvious reasons. Those instances should become much fewer moving forward.

We’re dealing with the two largest generations—by population—in human history. The Baby Boomers (who divorce, remarry, and divorce like they’re leasing new vehicles) and Millennials (who couldn’t find jobs when they graduated from college, had a bunch of student loan debt, and frequently lived with their parents for more years than what had previously been the societal norm.)

The Baby Boomers practically invented divorce as we know it today.

And Millennials—the largest generation in history—perhaps for philosophical reasons, perhaps for logistical ones, are waiting much longer to get married, OR opting not to marry at all.

And if you got married for the first time in the last eight years, you’re still in that 5-10 year window where you may be married, but miserable, OR may still get blindsided by divorce from the undetected slow build that tends to happen behind the scenes until too many straws pile up on top of your pet camel.

Cohen himself acknowledges the rise of unmarried couples who co-habitat and have children, but simply avoid exchanging vows or signing legal documents as a contributing factor to the decline in divorce. “Many poorer and less educated Americans are opting not to get married at all. They’re living together, and often raising kids together, but deciding not to tie the knot. And studies have shown these cohabiting relationships are less stable than they used to be,” wrote Bloomberg’s Ben Steverman, in his recent article about Cohen’s divorce analysis.

So, you see, a lot of this is semantics. How we choose to label things.

Sure, there are fewer divorces. That’s because we’re measuring the number of documents filed at our nation’s courthouses rather than measuring the quality of human relationships.

2. People Still Don’t Get It—We’re Nowhere Close to Fixing What’s Broken

People would still rather be ‘right,’ than to mutually arrive at truth with someone with whom they currently disagree.

People cling for dear life to their beliefs. Everyone on earth was taught a story about life from their earliest moments. And the vast majority of people clutch to those beliefs for dear life because it’s what feels safe to them. It’s what feels ‘right’ or ‘correct’ or ‘normal.’ Religious and political discussions frequently up the stakes, but that’s not even what I’m talking about in the context of long-term romantic relationships.

Boys grew up watching their mothers fold clothes and vacuum rugs and juggle the majority of household tasks like cooking dinner, cleaning bathrooms, handling the majority of baby stuff, being involved in their children’s school, caring for sick kids, etc.

They grew up watching their dads do less of those things.

The only boys who could have ever grown up into men who DIDN’T believe that that family model was The Way it Ought to Be, were the ones from the statistical-outlier families where that’s not how it worked.

MOST boys grew up into men with some pretty hardwired beliefs about gender roles in male-female relationships. Those beliefs inadvertently led those men to behave in certain ways.

And it just so happens that those “certain ways” are statistically proven to negatively affect relationships—namely marriage, which is the only kind we have decent data for.

Men get really defensive about this. Makes sense. I don’t like it either when people tell me I’m messing up and hurting people, when I’m trying hard and believe myself to be someone who doesn’t hurt people.

But it’s true.

It tastes like piss-infected Cheerios. But it’s still true.

We Will All Have a Role to Play

I hope young women will continue to demonstrate stronger, more forceful boundaries while dating, and never tolerate behaviors they recognize to be relationship-killers. Better to end it now, then put yourself, your husband, and your children through divorce 10 years from now.

I hope young men will continue to evolve. Increase their emotional intelligence. Improve their empathy and self-awareness skills. Young men must learn to value their partner’s life experiences as much as their own—EVEN IF those life experiences are radically different than their own.

Maybe white people don’t know what it feels like to be treated a certain way because of their skin color.

Maybe straight people don’t know what it feels like to be rejected by family because of who they love.

Maybe atheists don’t know what it feels like to be a Christian simply trying to do some good in a mad, mad world while seeking strength from a higher power.

Maybe Christians don’t know what it feels like to be a life-long loving and peaceful member of society and the Muslim faith community, only to be treated with fear and hatred by the very people espousing Christian principles and claiming to preach the Gospel.

And JUST MAYBE, every single other person in world history have lived a totally different life than you—in different places, with different conditions and expectations, who were taught different stories from their earliest ages, and who now experience daily life and have beliefs and an emotional makeup totally different from yours.

It’s NOT weird that other people are different than us. It would be weird if they WEREN’T.

Someday, people are going to figure this out. Like an awakening.

And it’s going to be amazing when that happens.

In the meantime, I’d just like to see young people trying their best to STOP accidentally ruining their most important human relationships because they don’t know any better.

I’d like to see children being taught critical life skills that will help them manage their emotional health and human relationships with the same care that we teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic. Because I kind of think our ability to navigate human relationships and have a successful home life is even more important than the things we can learn from school books and classrooms.

Is the divorce problem really improving?

Like most things, I suppose it depends on how you look at it.

Cohen’s work inspired a bunch of conversation about the health of the divorce-attorney business. About Census data that might as well have been about cattle or robots.

But I don’t see numbers.

I see people. Families. Children. Ones that look just like my life when I was accidentally ruining my marriage, and just like my life when my parents were accidentally ruining theirs.

It’s not about accounting.

It’s about a fundamental shift in self-awareness and human behavior.

It’s not about math and money.

It’s about love. For ourselves. For others.

It’s about the courage to choose it.

And then the courage to live it.

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78 thoughts on “The Coming Divorce Decline? I’ll Believe it When I See It

  1. leslidoares645321177 says:

    Perfect timing as always Matt. I just read an article relating to this that you might find interesting:
    https://ifstudies.org/blog/for-most-couples-who-stay-the-course-marriage-gets-better-with-time-an-interview-with-paul-r-amato

    I agree that the best thing is for people to understand that we’re all different and respecting others experiences is a great place to start if you want to have good relationships.

    Like

  2. ddjennifer says:

    You make an excellent point which i sum up this way- we once used divorce rate as a relationship health barometer. It was never really a good barometer and even a more antiquated one as time marches on. Relationships are defined by more than just marriage, or the dissolution of marriage, or the lack thereof. Having said that, i still take the trend as a positive

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Danza Reavis Martin says:

    I completely agree with you. I too am currently going through a divorce and I have more than a handful of friends going through the same thing. Many of those that are married don’t want to be married but cannot split due to monetary reasons so the fact that there is a decline?? I don’t think so.

    Like

  4. jenny4 says:

    Thanks for the food for thought. Finances totally play a role in getting married or getting un-married. I read the news of declining divorce rates with some skepticism last week too. At first glance I thought millenials may have had their act together; but aren’t some millenials almost 40 years old already? (I don’t know; I think of my 20-something coworkers as millenials too). At any rate, as you stated not getting divorced isn’t always an accomplishment. I do have hope for future generations and my own kids…(generation X? Z?)… but I’m not sure our society is on a true divorce decline yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mike says:

    Interesting. The explanation offered by the author is “Marriage is become
    more selective, and more stable, even as attitudes toward divorce are becoming more permissive” i.e like you said, Matt, not marriage getting better, but people being more selective about getting married.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kerry Laishley says:

    I enjoyed reading your previous article but I stopped reading this on ‘pissed on your cheerios’. Respect should start with language used.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Appreciate that Kerry, but I said “Holy shit!” well before that.

      I understand that people make a big deal out of words that someone arbitrarily labeled as ‘bad’ long before any of us were born.

      Let’s just say I don’t always believe everything people try to convince me of, nor do I always do what other people think I should.

      My job is to write as authentically as possible. It’s where the passion lives.

      Sometimes I say ‘bad’ words because I’m pretty sure children aren’t reading my articles about divorce.

      I don’t always use profanity, so I hope you find something in the future that you like.

      I seriously do appreciate you reading.

      Like

  7. gottmanfan says:

    I think this trend has far more to do with income and eduction inequality that is now tied to our expectations of who expects to get married.

    Marriage used to be fairly universal among income and education levels. It has increasingly become something expected only from those who have college degrees.

    That in turn has to do with underemployment of men in lower socio economic classes.

    If it was all just a matter of paperwork it wouldn’t be a cause for much concern.

    But the instability of the relationships are a huge problem when children are involved.

    That instability has a lot of repercussions beyond children too.

    Like

    • gottmanfan says:

      “Researchers estimate that between one-fifth and two-fifths of the growth in family income inequality is due to a difference in marriage patterns between Americans of higher and lower socioeconomic status, determined by educational achievement. And projections show that the gap in marriage will continue to widen over time, according to a recent research compilation from Princeton University and The Brookings Institution.

      In the 1950s, marriage rates didn’t vary much among men with different levels of education, while educated women were less likely to get married than non-educated women.

      Since then, marriage rates have declined much more steeply for Americans of both genders with less education.”

      From US News and World Report

      Like

  8. Rebecca says:

    At my 1st grader’s (public) school, this year the school curriculum includes weekly Emotional Quotient lessons. The principal sends out an email to the parents each week with that lesson, and all the teachers have it in their classrooms and discuss it. My daughter has even brought it up a few times, and changed her behavior twice after reminding herself out loud about one of the lessons she learned. I’m loving that the school has recognized the need for it and is doing that. I hope all of the schools in the district, which is one of the largest in our state, are doing it too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      I’ve never heard of this. I’m thrilled to hear it, though. I don’t want you to compromise your privacy, but if there was a way for you to comfortably share a link or more info about this, I’d love to learn more.

      Regardless, thank you so much for sharing.

      Like

      • Rebecca says:

        Hi Matt,
        I sent you an email with information, including links to a few of the weekly flyers that have been emailed. I didn’t put the whole email here because it was kind of long, but by all means spread the word about the program if you would like to. I wish all schools implemented it.

        I have no personal affiliation with the program at all other than it being at my daughter’s school, so I’m not saying this with anything to gain, but maybe the person whose name is at the bottom of the flyers would be someone to consider interviewing for your podcast?

        Anyway, do what you want with the info, and I hope you find it helpful.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Pat says:

    “I’m only speculating, but I literally know of five—FIVE!—elderly divorced adults with children who ended their heterosexual marriages because they were gay and had been hiding it for years.

    People have gone to great lengths to hide who they are. It’s sad that some people are so afraid of what others will think of them that they’ll go to such lengths to conceal something that’s true about them.”

    I think it’s worse than sad because it means that there was someone who was lied to, possibly for decades, and after one spouse came out of the closet the other was shoved in.

    Also it may be that in the past men with more education were willing to marry women with less education. Now women with more education aren’t willing to do the same because what the wage gap between men and women she is more likely to be the breadwinner and less able to support the household.

    I’ve been married for over 20 years and I wouldn’t say it gets better. A bad marriage is still a bad marriage. Length doesn’t give any indication of quality. It can simply mean two people are resigned.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Recently I read about this bit of research and then stumbled upon Matt’s post,  “THE COMING DIVORCE DECLINE? I’LL BELIEVE IT WHEN I SEE IT” […]

    Like

  11. msariesgrrl says:

    Awesome Matt!! I knew you’d read beyond what the article was stating and delve into the soul of the issue!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pat says:

    Speaking of marriage – do you read ChumpLady? What are your thoughts regarding Esther Perel? If you’ve written about Perel I haven’t stumbled over it yet, but I’m new and still working my way through the archives.

    Like

    • Mike says:

      Working your way through – yes me too, I’m deep in the middle of 2016! (I like Perel, don’t like Chumplady; but that’s not a detailed critique is it.)

      Like

      • Mike says:

        (I am just in the middle of reading a heated debate in the comment section as to whether Pope Francis is really a Catholic. I haven’t got to the bit about the bears and the woods yet.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Pat says:

        How funny. I loathe Esther Perel (adultery apologist) and love ChumpLady (adultery puts chumps lives in jeopardy).

        Like

        • Mike says:

          Well, it makes sense that if you like one, you dislike the other, as they have pretty opposite messages! I’m biased, because my job includes helping people reconcile. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Since you summarised each, my summary would be that CL says it’s pretty simple, the cause is always the same (“entitlement”), whereas EP says it’s complicated, and there are many different causes (which matches my experience). I’ve heard EP talk many times about how much pain and damage adultery causes.

          Liked by 1 person

          • uniballer1965 says:

            I have a hard time with EP because I get the impression that character doesn’t matter. I.E. excuses for having affairs.

            Affairs are abusive behavior. Just ask Dr Willard Harley who also deals with infidelity. It’s been his experience that those who have experienced the death of a loved one, a rape and an affair will almost always tell you the most difficult experience was the affair.

            There is something incredibly abusive about the betrayal of trust by an intimate partner.

            But people like EP seem to discount the abusive nature of affairs.

            Sorry, but CL has it right when it comes to the damage caused by the choices made by one who chooses to have an affair. It’s an abusive behavior and should be called exactly what it is.

            I’m not saying a betrayed spouse doesn’t have things he needs to fix. But when someone is having an affair, she needs to do the heaviest lifting when it comes to repair of the relationship. And that starts with proving she is an emotionally, physically and otherwise healthy and safe spouse.

            Then and only then would I counsel a betrayed spouse to consider returning to his unfaithful spouse.

            It seems too much of the Marital Industrial Complex has this backwards. The betrayed spouse has to continue to risk further abuse at the hands of the unfaithful spouse to repair the marriage.

            Nope, the abusive spouse always needs to demonstrate she is a safe partner FIRST.

            Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            Mike,

            I agree with you. I think people generally mischaracterize what Esther Perel says.

            She does not “excuse” the adulterous affair. She does not discount the horrible pain it causes the spouse.

            She is trying to say that there are REASONS people seek out affairs. While there are common patterns, there are a lot of different reasons, not just one.

            Perel says to understand how to PREVENT affairs and REPAIR relationships you must have a deeper sense of what causes them.

            A deeper sense of how to diagnose the individual causes. For example, she says often people have affairs after a loss like a loved ones death. They have an affair as a way to feel “alive”.

            This does not excuse the choice of having an affair.

            There are relationship reasons at the root on an affair too. Loneliness, rejection, lack of connection and sex.

            This does not excuse the affair. It is simply understanding the WHY of it.

            You need to have an accurate sense of why so you can address the issues and help both people create a new marriage if they choose that.

            Like

            • uniballer1965 says:

              Affairs are not caused. That is victim blaming. No different than suggesting a victim caused their partner to abuse them.

              There are reasons people CHOOSE affairs, but they are not caused. If a relationship is shitty, it’s probably that way for BOTH people, not just one. One chooses and affair and the other doesn’t.

              Similar circumstances for both. Yet one is able to avoid choosing an affair.

              So let’s be real honest about the nature of affairs. Some choose them, others don’t, but they are NEVER caused by the betrayed spouse.

              Like

              • gottmanfan says:

                Uniballer,

                I know you have been unfairly blamed for causing your first wife’s affair. That is completely WRONG AND UNFAIR. No one causes another person to have an affair in a cause and effect way.

                That is not what I believe Esther Perel says. It is certainly not what I believe.

                Let me phrase it clearly.

                I do not think spouses CAUSE their partners to have an affair.

                It is always the responsibility of the person having the affair for their choice. ALWAYS.

                There are circumstances external and internal that create the choice. That is what I meant by the reasons that cause an affair.

                In the same way that in a non affair shitty marriage one partner may choose to stonewall or criticize or say contemptuous things.

                Those are all choices that are the responsibility of the person doing them. ALWAYS.

                There are external and internal reasons that “cause” the person to choose those things. That set up the situation to make that choice more or less likely.

                One of Esther Perel’s main points is that sometimes affairs have nothing at all to do with the other person or the happiness of the marriage. Affairs can happen because one spouse is dealing with some issue (loss, trauma, mid-life crisis, poor self esteem, sex, need for external approval, loneliness, etc) and uses an affair as an external way to make them feel better as a temporary fix.

                Many people do this through other things. Getting temporary relief through alcohol, work, charity, drugs, food, work, exercise, kids, Netflix, social media, etc.

                It is not blaming the spouse for seeking to understand why people make stupid and destructive choices that hurt the relationship and their spouse and often themselves.

                This is true for non affair shitty marriage dynamics as well. A spouse chooses to stonewall because their spouse’s criticism and yet another fight feels unfair or unbearable and they default to short term relief of avoiding. That is the “cause” of their choice.

                They are unable or unwilling to do something that would be more productive to deal with it. Often to even SEE there is another way.

                Like

                • uniballer1965 says:

                  Which is why I think the word cause should be left out.

                  Nothing causes an affair. People choose them.

                  The word cause is the word to which I take exception. No one causes their spouse to betray them, or abuse them. That person chooses that course of action.

                  There are reasons they choose it, but it’s 100% a choice made by them.

                  I can buy explanations that include co-creation of the circumstances. But cause is very much the wrong word here.

                  Like

                  • gottmanfan says:

                    Uniballer,

                    I agree that the word “cause” implies directly making someone doing something.

                    When I meant to imply it sets up the choice.

                    Or it is correlation not causative.

                    Or the motivation or reason behind the choice.

                    Sorry for the poor wording of my comments. I can understand why the word cause is not accurate.

                    Like

                  • Mike says:

                    Uniballer: “There are reasons they choose it, but it’s 100% a choice made by them. I can buy explanations that include co-creation of the circumstances. But cause is very much the wrong word here.”

                    I agree. It’s difficult to know how to use the right words for this. “co-creation of circumstances” sounds good to me. I think a person’s choices are always 100% their responsibility, and nothing excuses an affair. I hope nothing I have said ever implies the contrary, and I don’t feel I’ve ever heard Perel say the contrary either, but I may have missed it. My difficulty with Chumplady is that to me it seems she says those who have affairs are all basically the same, and I disagree with that. It’s not what I’ve seen.

                    If a couple tell me they want to reconcile after an affair, then it’s not my job (as I understand it) to dissuade them. CLs message board (and other message boards) would see it as their job to dissuade them. I see my job as helping them first, get over the shock, and eventually, understand what led to it, or co-created it, however I can put it, so that new lessons can be learned and new understandings put in place. If the guilty party refuses to learn anything, all I can do is try to make that refusal explicit between them, so the other party knows very clearly where they stand.

                    Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Mike said : “If a couple tell me they want to reconcile after an affair, then it’s not my job (as I understand it) to dissuade them. CLs message board (and other message boards) would see it as their job to dissuade them”

                      Chumplady says you should NEVER reconcile after an affair? I am only vaguely familiar with her message.

                      One of the things Esther Perel says is that in today’s culture people (especially women) often are shamed for choosing to stay married after an affair.

                      That it implies you don’t have enough self esteem etc. Which is a very different message than used to be given about the priority of keeping the family together. The message has swung from one extreme to the other.

                      What we believe about the reasons and “co-creation of the circumstances” of affairs make a huge difference in how we emotionally respond and whether we choose to say it’s the “unpardonable sin” and automatic divorce. Or to suffer in silence. Or a chance to rebuild a new second marriage with the same person. Dr Harley, Gottman among others says that is very possible. (I am not saying one must choose that of course).

                      Culture certainly informs our belief about sexuality and affairs.
                      Since Dr Williard is coming from an Evangelical Christian perspective, that may impact the view that an affair is the worst kind of pain one can experience from his subset of clients. If we believe that an affair is the ultimate betrayal then it makes some sense that it would create ultimate pain.

                      If we believe it is a reflection of people making poor choices to get short term relief it will not be perceived in the same way. This does not at all mean it is not very painful. But imho would not be viewed as worse than the death of your child.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Mike says:

                      Well, to quote her, what CL says is this: “I’m not hopeful about reconciliation after infidelity. It’s not that I don’t believe successful reconciliations are possible — it’s just that I’ve seen scant evidence of them. I liken this to a unicorn, mythical creatures, rarely sighted, that I want to believe in.”

                      I withdraw my comment that she thinks cheaters are all the same. On further looking, although she says the problem is always the same – entitlement – she also has a page called “a spectrum of cheaters” which is reasonable analysis.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Mike,

                      Thanks did the update about chumplady.

                      “I’m not hopeful about reconciliation after infidelity. It’s not that I don’t believe successful reconciliations are possible — it’s just that I’ve seen scant evidence of them. I liken this to a unicorn, mythical creatures, rarely sighted, that I want to believe in.”

                      This demonstrates the problem with using anecdotes to draw conclusions. Like all those people who can’t believe that x person won an election or likes x movie. Since “everyone they know” voted for y or hates x movie.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Like Uniballer’s valid criticism of the word “cause”, I don’t think “entitlement” is the right word.

                      I disagree that it’s always the same or that “entitlement” is always at the root.

                      Like

                    • uniballer1965 says:

                      I wouldn’t recommend anyone reconcile with someone who tries to blame their betrayed spouse for their choice to cheat.

                      I think the idea that cheaters are entitled is from the things many of them say to justify their choice to cheat.

                      If they don’t 100 percent own the choice to cheat, then I would not view them as someone safe for reconciliation.

                      Doesn’t mean they cannot be. But I would say the burden of becoming a safe and trustworthy spouse lies with the unfaithful spouse.

                      The entitlement mentality is demonstrated in the words and actions witnessed in the typical unfaithful spouse. They seem to operate from the same script. It’s no wonder they are not seen as largely the same since the behaviors are so uniform.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I think it is common to blame the other person. For pretty much anything. Don’t you? That is pretty much the default human reaction imho.

                      For affairs, for not being x thing that I need, for being and doing whatever. Or not being and doing.

                      Maybe Mike can speak to his client experience but from what I read it is very common to start off not owning it 100%. Or for the other person to not be willing to acknowledge the things that may have set up that choice. That is why you often need professional guidance to work on all that after an affair.

                      We have a frequent commenter that has talked quite eloquently of the experience of reconciling after an affair.

                      Affairs are imho symptoms of the same types of things that cause shitty marriages. Most people, including me, find it difficult to own their shit 100%. To not deflect the blame onto the other person.

                      It is usually a long hard process to be able and willing to even acknowedge that the other person isn’t to blame for your choices.

                      So I agree that the person who had the affair has to own 100% their choice to cheat. I don’t think it usually starts off that way.

                      I think the other person must be 100% be willing to start a new chapter and being willing to make changes to enable that. I don’t think it usually starts out that war either since they have been hurt.

                      Imho it to reconcile it requires being willing to seek appropriate help from people who know what they are doing (sadly as you know there are some who don’t).

                      Be willing and open to the process. To work hard to change. To have the energy to do all that.

                      Some people won’t be willing to make that choice. Or some people find they don’t want to.

                      I don’t think it’s necessary to make that choice I just disagree it’s not possible. Or that it a a unicorn as chumplady said.

                      To use my own anecdotes, I know otherwise in my own family and friends. I would say it’s not a unicorn but a thoroughbred horse. It takes a lot of effort to produce.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I think too that the person who had the affair may think that they have owned it 100% by apologizing but wants to “move on.”

                      Part of really owning it is being willing to go through the hard process of helping their spouse through the pain they caused. Of being willing to absorb some of the pain they feel.

                      Like

                    • Mike says:

                      GF: “absorb some of the pain” – that’s a very good way of putting it

                      Like

                    • Mike says:

                      UB: “I wouldn’t recommend anyone reconcile with someone who tries to blame their betrayed spouse for their choice to cheat.”

                      It depends how you mean “blame”. If they say something like “well if you didn’t keep nagging me about putting my dishes in the dishwasher, this wouldn’t have happened”, that’s one thing. What if they say “well, our relationship wasn’t good before, I don’t think either of us was happy, and I think that was part of how this happened” ?

                      To answer my own question, if they say that, I’m going to give my speech about the difference between blame and responsibility, and essentially say yes, I hear what you say, but it’s too soon to go there. If you decide to stay together, you will need to address what was wrong before, but at the moment you’re not in a position to have a two-sided conversation about that, because the situation is not symmetrical. We have to address the damage caused by the affair before we can talk about that. And then see how they react. Maybe they give the “we just need to move past this” speech, which is not a good sign. And I tend to think of that not as “entitlement”, but as having a very small tolerance for bearing shame.

                      Then I would have a very difficult task, because I need to support the cheater enough for them to be able to cope with the process, and me doing that may enrage the betrayed spouse, and me even saying it may enrage people reading this, and would I am sure disgust chumplady – but the cheater is deep in some hole of shame, so much so they can’t talk about it. A bit like a war vet who did something in battle and learned something about the evil that they are capable of, and now has PTSD. Or, maybe they are a severe narcissist or sociopath, no shame at all, in which case I’m wondering how far I can go in making it clear to the betrayed partner that it’s never going to be any better than this. I hate those ones.

                      Like

                    • uniballer1965 says:

                      I buy supporting the cheater in dealing with her shame.

                      However, I still don’t buy the scenario you describe regarding explanation. You said: What if they say “well, our relationship wasn’t good before, I don’t think either of us was happy, and I think that was part of how this happened” ?

                      I think I’ve answered it. As the example here says, it was bad for both. The actions of the cheater have not made the relationship better. Both were unhappy, but only one chose to betray the other. As the one who was betrayed I’m being asked to feel sorry for the one who betrayed me because she chose to betray me because she was unhappy. I didn’t choose to betray her when I was unhappy. My “reward” if you will for being faithful is that I get betrayed.

                      If someone said, I was unhappy and I pulled a dumbass move trying to be happy. I did something incredibly selfish and hurtful, I’d buy that.

                      But the “we were both unhappy, so you should understand my affair…” just pours salt in the wound. It reminds the faithful spouse that he too was unhappy and now he’s expected to just let her betrayal go, in accordance with her timeline.

                      As you likely know, the unfaithful spouse has been on the betrayal train for weeks, months maybe even years before the betrayed spouse even knows he’s on it. He’s been on it too and hasn’t known it because the betrayal was hidden from him. But it still impacted his life and relationship.

                      So he has to get a grip on this emotionally, mentally and even physically.

                      For her to come in and say, “come on, you were unhappy too, can’t you understand…” only shows how much she doesn’t understand. After all, he DIDN’T have the affair, so how could he understand the thinking that if she was unhappy, she could decide to betray him?

                      It’s like he doesn’t even know who this woman is.

                      As Dr Harley and even CL have alluded to, it’s like the pre-unfaithful spouse has been replaced with someone the betrayed spouse doesn’t even recognize.

                      The fog of the affair is what Harley uses, and the betrayed spouse is deep in the fog. Statements like the one you suggest just scream out lost in the fog to me.

                      So no, I’m not willing to accept anything that even hints at, “you were too…” such as the you also were unhappy, so you should understand.

                      It must be a very clear, I did something incredibly hurtful, I own it, you are not to blame, will you forgive me, full stop.

                      Anything less than that and the unfaithful spouse is either unsafe or simply not a good partner at this time.

                      Still doesn’t mean she cannot get better. But I still wouldn’t advise someone to consider reconciliation until there is no hint of blame.

                      Just as I wouldn’t advise someone to confess to a spouse who would beat them physically, I would not advise someone to reconcile with a spouse who would harm them emotionally.

                      I really see the “you were unhappy too…” as further emotional abuse or justification of the affair. The only mention of “you” by the unfaithful spouse should be, “I betrayed you…” “I hurt you…” “What I did was cruel to you…”

                      It may be true that the betrayed spouse was also unhappy. However, the unfaithful spouse doesn’t need to bring it up.

                      Besides, no matter how unhappy the unfaithful spouse thinks the betrayed spouse was before the affair pales in comparison to the damage done by the affair.

                      I was unhappy before my ex-wife’s affair. But I didn’t have suicidal thoughts, or difficulty eating or sleeping before the affair.

                      However, I did lose about 25 pounds and could barely sleep the first month of hearing about the affair.

                      It’s the difference between a conventional war and a nuclear war. The pre-affair unhappiness was nothing compared to the hurt caused by the affair.

                      No, I wouldn’t recommend bringing up the idea of pre-affair unhappiness by the unfaithful spouse.

                      Just own it and then work on being a safe spouse, period.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Uniballer,

                      I agree that ideally the person would act as you describe.

                      It is very difficult to stay in uncertainty and ambiguity and being in pain and not having the other person see that and 100% own what they did.

                      It increases the difficulty of the process significantly if the person is in the fog and isn’t able yet to do that.

                      All I am saying is that therapists can help a couple even when there isn’t that 100%. It is common to not be in that ideal place. It is very difficult but it is not a unicorn.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Uniballer,

                      I’ll be honest that even though I have experienced the pain of affairs if was not directly in my own marriage.

                      So I cannot imagine how very painful it was for you to go through that. And to not have your wife 100% own it. And then to be told it was your fault somehow.

                      So I speak of this stuff from a very different personal place.

                      I am in no way trying to say that anyone should “feel sorry” for the spouse who has cheated on you.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      My understanding of what Harley says is that ***IF*** the spouse who has been cheated on wants to try and save the marriage they may have to do some things unilaterally when the spouse is in the fog.

                      That does not mean excusing the behavior or acting like it hasn’t happened.

                      But it is getting that the “fog” will prevent the person from owning their shit 100%. Or acting in a way that acknowledges the pain they have caused.

                      I understand why people don’t choose that path. In some cases the other person is a serial cheater and won’t change.

                      Or in more average cases, it just takes too much of a cost to keep trying to get the marriage to a different place.

                      I have seen it go different ways. In some cases the marriage was able to be rebuilt even with the other person not owning 100% at the start.

                      In others the price was too high to pay for the non cheater’s mental and physical health.

                      And in others the person who had the affair wasn’t willing to do the work to reconcile.

                      The paths imho are similar to non affair shitty marriages.

                      Like

                    • Mike says:

                      Uniballer, “However, I still don’t buy the scenario you describe ….” I think I agree with everything you say there.

                      “No, I wouldn’t recommend bringing up the idea of pre-affair unhappiness by the unfaithful spouse.” No, I absolutely don’t recommend it either. But I have to handle it when it happens. This is aptly called “the bullet catch”. And indeed, sometimes the betrayed spouse will say it.

                      The comment about “the pre-unfaithful spouse has been replaced with someone the betrayed spouse doesn’t even recognize” is spot on.

                      Like

                    • uniballer1965 says:

                      Coming back to this as I downloaded some of EP podcasts a week ago and listened on a recent trip.

                      While I realize it’s an anecdote, I think the best one should hope for from a betrayed spouse is that they don’t close and lock the door.

                      I agree, it’s not time for a rash decision. I don’t think mine would be rash as I still remember what it’s like. Which is why I would have little tolerance for another cheating wife. I must have a pretty good memory, because I can still remember 14 years ago, about this time of year, getting the confirmation of my ex-wife’s affair.

                      I was pretty calm, but that’s not so odd, at least not to someone who has been down this road. All the things that didn’t add up before suddenly made sense. Sure, I was 100% ready to do what it took. I looked inward, got into therapy, worked with Dr Harley’s son who also lead counseling.

                      Didn’t matter. In some ways, I think it made things worse. It fueled her sense of entitlement. It was proof that the husband she was betraying was the problem.

                      So if it ever happens again, I am seriously giving the cheater about a nanosecond to own it and to start to do the work she needs to do to make things safe. If and only if she proves truly remorseful and emotionally safe, physically safe (going to MY doctor for testing and permission for me to view the results) and any other mode of safety I can think of, then I will address her complaints with the relationship.

                      I really think my problem is that I don’t do a good job advocating for myself. Which leads to exchanges like the Saturday morning “you never clean around here” instead of the Oktoberfest lunch event.

                      I listened to some EP and her podcast during a recent work trip. I still don’t get the idea that she holds the cheating partner accountable. I realize that I heard just one session with each of the half dozen or so couples I listened to while driving. Yet still, I can’t shake the impression that she isn’t doing much to make sure the unfaithful partner is a safe partner.

                      I certainly don’t get the impression she is going to be an advocate for the betrayed spouse. I don’t get the impression she sees such betrayals as damaging as any other form of abuse. And let’s be clear, it’s abusive behavior.

                      To keep abuse victims safe from their abusers, we keep them apart until the abuser does what she needs to do to make sure she is safe.

                      Since affairs are abusive behavior, the same applies.

                      The unfaithful spouse must demonstrate that she is no longer dangerous and abusive to her betrayed husband.

                      There are people who don’t accept the notion that affairs are abusive behavior. But they are full of deceit and gaslighting at the very least. The unfaithful spouse is trying to convince the other that the truth isn’t real. There is no affair. There is no one else. You are just imagining it, or you are jealous, or what is wrong with you.

                      Very much abusive and manipulative behavior.

                      Just like any other case of abuse, keep the victim safe and the abuser has to demonstrate they are no longer a danger.

                      I didn’t experience this in what I heard from EP.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Uniballer,

                      You said: “I really think my problem is that I don’t do a good job advocating for myself.”

                      I think this is very insightful. Many of us don’t know how to advocate for ourselves in a healthy way in a relationship. And you are right that leads to lots of problems.

                      I have identified that as my primary issue. The Atkinson ebook I recommended phrases it as “standing up for yourself without making a big deal of it.”

                      Some “people pleasers” have difficulty with the first part of that phrase. Imho people with strong opinions of right and wrong (that may be valid) have a problem with the second part.

                      I’m in the second category. Perhaps you are too?

                      Like

                    • Mike says:

                      “standing up for yourself without making a big deal of it. Some “people pleasers” have difficulty with the first part of that phrase. Imho people with strong opinions of right and wrong (that may be valid) have a problem with the second part.”

                      Interesting – I’d say that those two groups tend to correlate – I believe “people pleasers” tend to have strong opinions about right and wrong! When they eventually do stand up for themselves, they make a big deal of it.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      We must know different kinds of people pleasers then. 😜

                      I was thinking of the typical conflict avoidant people who *give in* to what the other person wants. They don’t stand up for what they want.

                      To avoid a fight or the other person’s judgment of them. Or because their self image is grounded in being “nice” or “easy going”. Or they think their needs are less important. Or they want love and approval etc etc etc.

                      You know people pleasers who stand up for themselves regularly?

                      Like

                    • Mike says:

                      “You know people pleasers who stand up for themselves regularly?” – no, not regularly, but eventually. And then they usually overdo it, partly because they’re not very practised in doing it. They make an unnecessarily big deal of it because they’ve left it too long.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Oh yes ok I see what you mean.

                      They go along for years and then eventually reach a breaking point and blow up.

                      I was thinking of people who regularly are not people pleasers in the sense of going along with the other person all the time.

                      To use myself as an example, I will clearly state what I want or what we agreed to. But if the plan changes without consultation or if the other person is what I consider “selfish” I switch into judgment and contempt of them. And make a “big deal of it.”

                      Instead of renegotiating or setting boundaries without the judgment or contempt.

                      That’s what I mean by the black and white thinking. Right and wrong. Should and should not. All very binary.

                      The Atkinson ebook talks about just seeing it as normal that people are sometimes selfish. It doesn’t require making a big deal of it to effectively stand up for yourself.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I’m not sure what the specific topics were in the Esther Perel podcasts you listened to. The audible ones of her therapy sessions of podcasts promoting her State of Affairs book?

                      Anyway, I’m not advocating her as the best source of advice for a marriage with an affair. The original comments were simply to correct the idea that she is an apologist for affairs and doesn’t recognize the damage they can do to a marriage.

                      She doesn’t speak of affairs in the stark black and white ways Chumplady and others do for sure.

                      The podcast with the guy who had a sex addiction I think presents her point of view well. She calls out the husband for not focusing enough on the pain he caused his wife. His selfish focus on his issues only.

                      She also acknowledges the reasons that motivated his behavior and his treatment of the underlying issues.

                      I use her as one of MANY resources. I think her approach can be useful to think about how we approach the idea causes of adultery and why we frame it certain ways.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I have read a lot of Dr Harley’s books too and heard his radio shows. I think he has a lot of valuable things to say. Though I don’t agree with all of his approach any more than Esther Perels.

                      For me, the best thing is to consider a wide variety of perspectives because that helps shake me out of my default certainty.

                      I do think individual differences matter in how to approach marriage issues. One person may be motivated to have affairs as a result of unresolved childhood trauma and abuse. Another might be a narcissist having affairs from a sense of entitlement. Another might be as a result of poor boundaries.

                      All of those would be imho approached differently. And imho how the cheated on person responds might be different depending on the underlying cause.

                      Like

                    • uniballer1965 says:

                      Are you saying that the betrayed partner has to adjust his response based on the reasons the cheater cheated?

                      Hmm, seems to come across as, “yeah, you are the victim, but you need to consider your abuser….”

                      Again, not sure I buy this. But I come from it with the safety of the abused party as the number one priority. Doesn’t really matter WHY she cheated or what her background or backstory might be, the safety of those she’s harmed has to come first. After all, remember, the reasons for the abuse don’t make it hurt any less for her victims.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Uniballer,

                      From my perspective, the REASON someone behaves a certain way is a factor for how I respond.

                      This does not mean that I would tell anyone they are required to forgive and stay married.

                      If someone has the perspective that adultery is a dealbreaker no matter the cause then yes the reason won’t matter to them.

                      Many people do not have that perspective. If matters why the person had an affair.

                      Personally, I would be far more willing to work on a marriage if the underlying issues are because of trauma or poor boundaries and the person is willing and able to seek help and make necessary changes. I would not be willing if the person is motivated by narcissistic entitlement and is unwilling to change.

                      Of course your mileage may vary.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I agree that the reasons don’t necessarily make it hurt less.

                      An analogy might be if someone is killed. The reasons the person died make a difference in how we treat the killer even though the person is dead regardless.

                      Was it premeditated? Was it manslaughter because you were drunk while driving? self defense? Etc.

                      We do not give the same treatment to people even though the end result is someone is dead.

                      This is how I see it.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      It is always the choice of the partner who was cheated on to decide if they want to stay or not.

                      I am saying that people have different ways they consider that.
                      I have someone close to me that is going through this now.

                      I don’t think there is a “right” answer in many cases. It depends on what each person dealbreakers are and how much each are willing to work on things.

                      It obviously takes 2 people “all in”though. If the cheater isn’t willing to fully engage in the process at some point there isn’t much chance of a happy marriage.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      It seems that cheating for you is pretty much a dealbreaker unless there is huge significant immediate change from the cheater. Which I get.

                      All I am saying is that other people approach it differently. Don’t frame an affair as “abuse” or worse than having your child die.
                      They find it deeply painful but don’t see it like that.

                      Like

                    • uniballer1965 says:

                      Not sure I understand. Are you say THEY don’t treat it as abuse, or that I shouldn’t treat it as abuse?

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I am not saying that you (or anyone) should not see it as abuse or however you see it.

                      I am saying that that is not the only way to see it.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      But not sure I understand your position. Are you saying that *everyone* should treat affairs as abuse?

                      Like

                    • uniballer1965 says:

                      I’m saying it’s abuse. Just like any other type of abuse. We don’t give someone a pass due to their past for physical abuse. So why would we give a pass for emotional abuse?

                      Affairs are abusive behavior. Abuse is defined as cruel and violent treatment of another. Affairs are certainly emotionally violent to the betrayed spouse. It really doesn’t matter WHY the unfaithful spouse engaged in her abusive behavior. That doesn’t mitigate the damage done by her abuse. So yes, affairs are abusive behavior.

                      I cannot force others to recognize this. But I believe, like with any other thing, there are reasons people engage in hurtful behavior. But there are no excuses.

                      If that person has an unresolved past, then perhaps they should have gotten help before they married.

                      If the betrayed spouse wishes to remain, he can. But if he doesn’t, he is under no obligation to remain with an abusive partner. Not any more than we would expect the victim of physical abuse to remain with her abuser.

                      I cannot, in good conscience ever argue that affairs are any less abusive and destructive than other forms of emotional and physical abuse.

                      I don’t demand that others believe that. Perhaps you have to go through it to witness the devastating effects of that behavior. I can’t really say.

                      But having gone through that experience, I do believe the betrayed spouse has been abused by his unfaithful partner.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I can appreciate your point of view.

                      I think we disagree on the definition of “abuse.” I agree that affairs can be abusive.

                      I don’t agree that affairs by definition are all abusive.

                      I don’t think it is the same as physical abuse.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      And I am not trying to dismiss your painful experience of it. It must be horribly painful and a betrayal of trust. Especially since others tried to put the blame on you afterwards.

                      I can understand why you see it the way you do. If it cones across as dismissive of your experience I am truly sorry. That is not my intent. Affairs can and do often blow up people’s emotional safety. Including other children and other people affected.

                      I am basing my observations that others can experience it differently based on people I have been and am close to who have gone through it. They do not all experience it the same which underlines the theme of this blog.
                      We experience things differently.

                      That doesn’t mean moral relativism imho. I am in no way suggesting that affairs are “not a big deal.”

                      In my experience, people who have been cheated on do not all think or respond the same way.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Is defining affairs as “abusive” important because that puts the focus solely on the cheater?

                      And it emphasizes the pain caused to the person cheated on?

                      If affairs are not always defined as abusive then those positions are weakened?

                      Like

                    • uniballer1965 says:

                      Apply the flip test. Would you agree that not all beatings are abusive?

                      If you are going to suggest that not all affairs are abusive, are you willing to entertain that not all beatings are abusive?

                      I am uncomfortable with labeling SOME abusive behavior as not abuse.

                      I wouldn’t do it for physical abuse, and I wouldn’t do it for emotionally abusive behavior.

                      It’s not the labeling of the behavior that weakens the position of the perpetrator. It’s the fact they chose to engage in the behavior in the first place.

                      It’s important because it helps BOTH parties in the situation. It helps the cheater, because she can learn the destructive nature of her choices to betray and cheat. It helps the victim because he knows the damage his partner is causing him and can be a warning to seek safety.

                      It doesn’t absolve either from being a good partner. It simply puts into perspective the destructive nature of the behavior.

                      If the cheater refuses to believe her behavior is abusive, then she demonstrates she is unwilling or unable to provide exceptional care for her wounded partner.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      The issue is we DISAGREE that affairs are always abusive.

                      So your question isn’t on point to our disagreement.

                      I do not agree that affairs are the same as physical abuse. So asking “would you agree that not all beatings are abusive?” doesn’t speak to our disagreement.

                      But just to speak to your point, many Christians “spank” their children. They would not agree that is abusive.

                      To be clear this is NOT a good analogy for affairs. It is only that your black and white framing doesn’t everything.

                      I say this to disagree that your question is germane to our basic disagreement that physical abuse is not the same as having an affair.

                      Like

                    • uniballer1965 says:

                      What is an example of an affair that isn’t abusive?

                      Perhaps the disconnect is the definition of affair?

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I can only speak to how I view it. If my spouse had an affair (sexual or emotional) the motivations would matter to me for how I responded to it.

                      I would consider it abusive if it was done to intentionally inflict pain to me. In that way it is similar to me to emotional abuse.

                      If it is more about their own inability to deal with whatever they are going through (like the example of family of origin issues) I would not think of that as abusive even as I would be deeply hurt by the betrayal.

                      I would view that as about their emotional immaturity or lack of boundaries or whatever. That they need to work hard to change.

                      If my spouse was unhappy in the marriage or just flattered by the attention of another person and had an affair, I would see that again as their issue and not intentionally abusive to me.

                      That doesn’t mean I would not be collateral damage to their lack of maturity. Only that I would not see it as “abusive.”

                      I would then respond to them depending on the reasons and how willing and able they are to deal with their issues. And how much energy I want to or am able to rebuilding the relationship. My dealbreakers in the specific circumstances.

                      And I would be willing to figure out what needs to change on my end. It would never be my “fault” that they had an affair to be clear. But relationships are systems.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I guess I see it in terms of other relationship damage. Like leaving your wife crying the hospital after she begged you to stay.

                      That to me would be equivalent or worse to an affair in terms of breach of relationship trust.

                      Is it abusive to leave your wife crying in the hospital? That is a similar question to affairs imho.

                      It certainly CAN be abusive but doesn’t necessarily have to be.
                      It would probably not be abusive if the spouse was not intentionally trying to cause them pain.

                      Is it acceptable? NO!

                      Is it a violation of relationship trust? Yes absolutely.

                      But it is about the spouse who is lacking BASIC things. Why would they leave the crying spouse in the hospital? What are the reasons?

                      The answers to that matter to me for how I deal with it. In no way would I think that is acceptable. And it would absolutely require things to change.

                      So that’s how I think about affairs.

                      Like

                    • uniballer1965 says:

                      I would tend to see it just as abusive as the affair.

                      I’m presuming the leaving was voluntarily. I.E. just as someone chooses to betray their spouse. (Do people really trip and fall on a penis or into someone’s vagina?)

                      Not involuntarily like being deployed by the military or hauled off to jail.

                      Thinking only of self, no consideration of what impact your behavior has on the other person. Fully understanding that the leaving or the cheating are hurtful actions.

                      If you know you are doing something that is hurtful, and do it anyway, how is that not abusive? You are not doing it so that there is a little pain now for their healing later and with their foreknowledge and consent that yes, we’ll do this painful thing now for an anticipated benefit.

                      We can go down a rat hole and say there are all sorts of painful things that lead to a better future. The difference is knowledge and consent.

                      I went through surgery to have a tumor removed and went through chemotherapy to address any cancer cells not addressed by the surgery. The difference between that and the pain of say an affair or physical abuse is that I had a say in the matter and made the decision to go through the pain.

                      Being placed in a painful circumstance because of the selfish, thoughtless actions of another isn’t the same thing.

                      Betrayal is painful to the betrayed. I can see the similarities between the betrayal of abandonment of the wife left in the hospital and the betrayal of the unilateral abandonment of the affair.

                      Because, in view of the vows made, the affair is the acting as if the betrayed spouse is dead. Wanting it, or at least the “benefits” of them being dead.

                      If someone vows to be your partner until death do you part, and then they betray you, are they not in their actions, wishing you were dead?

                      But worse, they don’t have the character to say it to you.

                      If someone is so unhappy, why can’t they use their words and just say, “I’m unhappy?”

                      They may or may not do anything about it, but at least you are being honest about where you are in the relationship at that moment.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I agree with most of what you are saying here. I think we agree far more than we disagree.

                      I have had my own versions of being “left crying at the hospital.”
                      By both my spouse and by other close family members.

                      I have had to really dig deep to figure out how to think about how people can do such things. How do people betray you in such fundamental ways? How do I make sense of that?

                      I tend to be a black and white thinker. Strong opinions about how people should treat each other. Right and wrong. And because of that framing it is hard for me sometimes to deal with things in a healthy way even when I am “right.”

                      So I spend a lot of time trying to look at things in more complex ways. Trying to find a way to make sense of people who have affairs or leave their loved ones crying in the hospital.

                      I am far less interested in people who do things to intentionally hurt. Those people work quite well in my black and white framing. I have no problem setting boundaries or dealing with that. Although people pleasers do. But that’s not my particular problem.

                      How do you respond to “regular” people like Matt describes himself in the past who are either clueless or have distorted ideas of how people should be treated? Or they are so wrapped in their own sense of right and wrong that differ from my point of view or their own needs or wants or pain? Or any other number of things?

                      That is what I try and figure out.
                      The day to day disconnects and everyday selfishness. And the big ones like affairs. Why does that happen and what is the best way to respond to it?

                      In what what ways am I not responding to it or thinking about it in a healthy way?

                      They are indeed acting as if you aren’t there. A one person system instead of a two person system. The trick for me is to stay in a two person system myself. To not go into my default of judgement and contempt to protect myself. That is my unhealthy stuff I bring to the party.

                      That is why this stuff matters to me. I don’t philosophize for theoretical purposes. It’s to help me figure out how to navigate all this stuff.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I agree that “if someone is so unhappy, why can’t they use their words and just say, “ I’m unhappy?”

                      I agree that is important to figure out. What accounts for that? I am a very direct person so I could not ascribe that to anything other than stupidity, laziness, or meanness.

                      But that is assuming that other people are direct like me. See things like I do. Find things easy or hard in the way I do.

                      People pleasers are one example of those who find it hard to be direct. So are avoidant people. They have their reasons, motivations etc.

                      It doesn’t mean it’s right or healthy.

                      But as my husband tells me, I have different ways of being unhealthy like my previously mentioned judgment and contempt.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      We had a discussion here a couple of years ago with the post about leaving your wife crying at the hospital.

                      Many people said that was more hurtful than an affair. Obviously that can vary by person.

                      But I add that to emphasize that not everyone, including those who have been cheated on, view affairs as the worst thing possible.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I meant Dr Harley not Dr Willard (that’s his first name I think).

                      Like

              • gottmanfan says:

                I have heard people blamed that they caused their spouse to have an affair because they were doing or not doing x.

                For example, not having enough sex with them (or not as adventurous as they prefer) Or not enough emotional connection of romance or not enough money or not enough time or not enough whatever.

                Even if the person literally says I am not having sex or X ever again that does not cause the other person to choose to have an affair.

                It does not justify an affair.

                The person has not dealt with their internal or external unhappiness with the status quo maturely. This is not the fault of the spouse whatever he or she is doing or not doing.

                We are all responsible for our choices. And for knowing how to maturely deal with whatever is in our heads or going on in our relationships.

                Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            It is similar to understanding the WHY of a shitty marriage without affairs involved.

            Often, you get into patterns where each person acts out in unproductive or even destructive ways.

            WHY is each person doing that? What is going on emotionally and mentally?

            You have to get a correct diagnosis of the deeper emotional longing and the cognitive beliefs that cause you and your partner to make the choices you do.

            That does NOT excuse the shitty things people do.

            It is just the only way to figure out what is really going on so you can change it. Or choose to walk away. But at least you will have correct information to base you decisions on.

            This all assumes the average shitty marriage. Not abuse or personality disorders. But even there the process of understanding the WHY to understand is going on is the same imho.

            Like

        • Pat says:

          “As tempting as it is to reduce affairs to sex and lies”

          It is secrets and lies. She also justifies cheating and abuse of the unaware partner. If someone is that unhappy and won’t discuss it with their partner, or are unable to get what they want out of the relationship, they should end the primary relationship first and be single. Then you can pursue someone with clean hands, so to speak.

          My spouse cheated and gave me a STD. A lot of energy went into lying and having sex with someone else. I put a huge amount of work into our marriage, raising our family and my career. Meanwhile, he phoned it in to me while slipping it to others. That’s sex and lies. He chose not to talk to me and he put my health in jeopardy.

          But yeah, we’re still married. For the time being. He’s still lying though.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. gottmanfan says:

    I do not use the word “understand” to mean excuse. It means getting the cognitive correct diagnosis of WHY.

    It is simply trying to understand WHY this happened in the same way you would want to understand what went wrong in the airplane that crashed.

    Imho people have affairs for a lot of different reasons. Some when they are not unhappy in their marriage.

    That is why it is usually necessary to get professional guidance. The spouse who has been cheated on is devastated and their needs are a priority at that point to regain some balance.

    The first step is not figuring out the why. It is in helping the spouse who didn’t have the affair.

    The cognitive understanding is part of that process for some people. Other people don’t want that at that stage.

    None of it is an excuse for the choices made.

    Like

  14. gottmanfan says:

    But at this point I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

    Thank you for the discusion and for explaining your point of view.

    Like

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