Since writing “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” in 2010, friend of the blog Lori Gottlieb has dedicated herself to being a therapist.
Recently, she landed a gig at New York Magazine, putting her talents to great use, in a weekly column called “What Your Therapist Really Thinks.” Her writing is across-the-board superb, so I wasn’t sure what I wanted to share with you, but I thought this would be a great entry point to her work.
In a piece called “Is My Husband Having an Affair?” Gottlieb cuts to the heart of things. The letter writer is a woman who really doesn’t want to know the truth, lest it blow up her marriage.
“What are you afraid of learning? That your husband doesn’t love you? That he’s not attracted to you? That you’re not appealing enough to hold his attention? That he has commitment issues? Even if any of this is true (and most of it won’t be), it probably has little to do with why he would cheat.
She would rather bury her feelings than address them – which explains how she’s arrived at this point where she’s prepared to ignore her husband’s infidelity just to keep the peace.
It might be reassuring to know that most people have affairs not because they’ve found somebody better or hotter or more perfect (perfect people don’t tend to have sex with other people’s spouses) but because affairs make us feel alive and seen; they counteract feelings of numbness or flatness or disconnection that seem like they might kill us, if we don’t kill ourselves first. And since we aren’t up for suicide, we find a work-around.”
“An affair or alcohol or the internet (what a colleague calls “the most effective, short-term, nonprescription painkiller”) are all ways of coping with what we can’t bear: the career we picked, the choices we’ve made, a kid’s drug problem, the blandness of a soggy relationship. And putting one’s head in the sand serves exactly the same purpose: to not have to feel.
I wonder what you might not want to feel, HHIS. And I wonder what you might be feeling anyway, despite trying so hard to keep your head in the sand. Anger? Fear? Sadness? Loneliness? Anxiety? Despair? I always tell clients that when we feel something, it’s a signal to look inside ourselves, not at the other person (which most of us do, naturally, because it’s so much easier to look out than in). Here’s what I see when I look inside your letter: I won’t let my husband get near me – the real me, the messy me, the vulnerable me. I won’t let him see my fear. I’m cheating him of my authenticity. I’m a fake, and he knows it.”
Next, Gottlieb calls out the letter writer for being complicit in the underlying problem without actually being the cause of it. She would rather bury her feelings than address them – which explains how she’s arrived at this point where she’s prepared to ignore her husband’s infidelity just to keep the peace.
“Silence may seem solitary, but it’s very much an interaction, a communication without words. Neither of you is talking about why there used to be overnight communication when he’s traveling, and now, “uncharacteristically,” there isn’t. He’s aware that this is happening, too. I’ll bet there’s a lot going unsaid between you, unrelated to his business trips. Maybe you both feel more comfortable looking the other way (he, at a vodka or women or his iPad; you, at grains of sand), but if you both don’t watch where you’re going, you’re going to step on a landmine. One look in the psychological literature will show you that loneliness is one of the most painful of human experiences, which is why loneliness can be lethal – both for individuals (resulting in suicide) and for marriages (resulting in divorce). The antidote to feeling alone in a marriage is knowing that you have a partner with whom you can see and be seen. Without that, eventually, the emptiness of the connection will be too hard for one or both of you to tolerate. The loss will feel too large.”
I love this article. I love this writer. I hope you do, too.
Check out the whole thing and then let me know your thoughts on how you would handle things if you were in the wife’s shoes.