The Famous Unfaithful: A couple recovering from an infidelity described being rattled by the constant news reports of the famous unfaithful. The upside of the battering ram of infidelity reminders is that the husband is regretful and pained by his actions, which bolsters his commitment to working on his marriage. His wife sees his struggle and wrestles with her own stinging reminders. Neither is in denial, a good thing.
A Weakened Core: A patient suffers in a different manner from the media bombardment of foolish men doing hurtful things. Married for many years to a man who has become increasingly successful, she sees alarming potential in her marital bond, observing said hubby thriving on the attentions of women attracted to his success. She considers all possibilities of betrayal on the table: Weineresque, Clintonesque, or the equally alarming Schwarzenegeresque home-style version. Temptation to breach privacy rules is the most tangible and disturbing symptom of her growing distrust.
A Weakened Core: She visualizes herself as beautiful tree, branches shimmering in the sunlight, replete with glossy leaves. But the core of the tree, the trunk, scarred from a childhood filled with hurt, is being gnawed at daily by the threats of betrayal portrayed in living color and endless rhetoric by the media. The Gore separation was the first big jolt. A marriage reminiscent of her own, with much that is solid and good, of long duration, bearing fruit and seeming friendship, failed. With each new scandal, the core is further challenged. The tree remembers childhood and braces for pain.
The Suspicious Spouse: The recurrent revelations of domestic betrayal by infamous Coupledoms are not unlike the terrorist alerts of the post 9/11 era. Americans never knew what to do with the colors: red, yellow, or was it yellow, red? Here too alarms are going off in households across the country: should I check his/her text messages, cell phone history, emails? Find someone to hack his Twitter account? I know of folks who have stumbled onto their partner’s email by pressing a letter on the keyboard and finding correspondence loaded with innuendo and yet non-conclusive as to betrayal. Do they confess to the partner that they have seen something, innocently, and risk an accusation of breach of privacy or worse, the change of a password with no future access to the email? If they choose the latter, compulsively checking emails, grabbing the cell phone of an unsuspecting partner to scrutinize texts and histories, they set in motion an evil addiction that eats at the conscience and is never satisfied.
What Is The Media Doing To Your Coupledom? Are couples wiser for these revelations or weakened? In my opinion, the answer rests with each couple. How they manage their fears will determine the answer. The individual or Coupledom who find a way to discuss their concerns, and strive together to cope with the fears will be strengthened. Paul Simon sang it a couple of decades ago, “There are fifty ways to leave your lover.” Anyone and everyone can do it, but the smart ones recognize that and join forces to fight the temptations by building strength in the shared life. We are in this together, if we want to be. Denial never works. This could happen to us. What can we do together to avert the break up of our partnership, the heartbreak for our children, the messiness of betrayal and humiliation? Look, fairly good people can do fairly bad things to each other.
It Only Takes One of Us To Break It. But Two of Us To Make It: Anyone can betray, anyone can breach trust. Everyone is vulnerable in love and commitment. In truth, we only have control over ourselves. But in The Coupledom, we can have influence. Spelling out fears, and the realities of opportunity whether virtual or in the flesh, while emphasizing that conscious choice is a human prerogative, raises awareness and empathy between spouses. Each of us holds in our hands the future of our Coupledom. It only takes one of us to break it. But it takes two of us to make it.
A Deceptive Snoop Alternative: The patient whose childhood experience left her knowing that folks who say they love you, or whose role is to care for you, can choose behaviors that turn those words of love into lies and belie the role of caretaker, must find alternatives to spying and breaching the trust of privacy. The core of her being, though vulnerable, has options. She can recognize that all relationships have risks and the road to reducing risk is by way of honoring her self, her truth through honest communication. Her reawakened sense of vulnerability, dormant for years in her marriage, has shredded her sense of safety. But reality didn’t change. She never had control over her spouse. However, she does have influence, significant influence, because he loves her, because they share children and family and a life rich in connection and history. Conveying her concerns, offering him her observations of his temptations and the consequences if indulged, presented not as a threat but as the likely outcome based on human nature puts substance and girth to the conversation and frees her from becoming the deceptive snoop whom she would grow to detest.
The Limits of Control and The Power of Self: Recognizing the facts of human existence levels the playing field. We are all born mortal; no one escapes that essential boundary of life. And everyone is emotionally mortal too, capable of feeling the deadly pangs of loss, betrayal and loneliness. The bottom line, which the media never presents and none of the famous unfaithfuls can destroy, is that each individual is in charge of himself or herself. If you have a weak trunk, but beautiful branches and glossy leaves, take an emotional Pilates class, strengthen those abdominals by choosing pathways that enhance self-respect and self-confidence. We need each other but if we don’t make it together, “I can make it apart.” At birth we are given this one person with whom to spend our lives. We better learn to respect, enjoy and honor that person.
Toxic Distrust: Toxic distrust and the gnaw of uncertainty weakens the core and diminishes the self. No relationship or media role should be given the power to do that. If you are shaken by the media news of the famous unfaithful, do not spy; rather challenge the trust by sharing the truth with your partner. Or getting help to do so. I doubt that ever occurred within The Coupledoms of the famous unfaithful. Some may have seemed to get help, but help without truth is helpless.
Someone You Detest: Unremitting suspicion and fear is awful. It takes the joy out of living, sharing and loving. But becoming someone you detest by spying and choosing paranoid-laced actions, is just as bad. So if you are reeling from the media deluge of betrayal, have conversations, many with your partner. There are risks and risks. Risking self-respect is the greatest risk of all.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011