“So I said, and I admit I went a little crazy here, but I said to him, ‘If you ever get on that phone of yours again and text another woman I will leave you, take your money and your children and let you die alone a sad old man.’ And then I told him to go sleep somewhere else and I slammed the door and threw our wedding picture against it, which I now regret but I needed to make a point.” Carol sat back on the couch and crossed her arms and glared at me as though daring me to have something to say about the incident she’d just described.
“Well,” I said, pausing and eyeing her to see what she might do next, “it seems to me like we need to do some work on helping you find your voice.”
Carol’s eyes widened and she stared at me for a moment, dumbfounded, and then she started laughing. “Oh yeah, I need to find my voice alright. I just told you I set a boundary with him and told him exactly what I needed.” She looked at me with an “I did it, right?” look.
I closed my eyes and shook my head and said to her, “No, that was not a boundary, and that was not telling him what you need. That was a good old-fashioned rant and rave.” Carol frowned at me and I quickly said, “Look, your husband would try the pope’s patience, so I understand why you did what you did. I’m just saying that while it may feel satisfying to yell, threaten, slam a door, and throw a breakable in the heat of the moment, that sort of response is not very effective long term.” Then I shrugged and waited to see what she would do with that.
“But how can you say that you need to help me find my voice? I’m talking and yelling and drawing lines all over the place all the time and it doesn’t do any good.”
“Right,” I said, “because while you are using your voice a lot, and at great volume, you are not using it with power and effectiveness. We need to teach you how to do that.”
Carol gave me a thoughtful look and said, “OK, explain it to me.”
Many betrayed partners use their voices non-stop after discovering their spouse’s sexual betrayal. But they do it ineffectually, like Carol. They talk, cry, yell, plead, threaten, cajole, and then they talk some more, all in an attempt to get their significant other to come to their senses and to try to re-establish some safety within the relationship. Other betrayed partners go silent in the aftermath. They wall off, pull away and stop talking in an effort to protect themselves. They too are trying to figure out how to feel safe again in the relationship. They just do it by creating distance rather than pursuing. Still, other betrayed partners do a combo platter, pursuing until they are exhausted and then walling off for a while until they decide to go after one more time.
Whatever approach is taken, these women are not using their voices in an effective and empowered way. For instance, after Carol yelled, made threats, slammed the door and broke her wedding picture, what do you think her spouse did? If you think he sat on the stairs and was overcome with remorse about the pain he’d caused his wife and children, and renewed his commitment to his relationship, well, I toast your optimism. But it’s much more likely that he stomped down the stairs thinking some version of “She’s nuts,” and, “What does she expect,” and, “I need to wipe my phone to make sure she doesn’t find this crap again,” and, “I’m sick of these exhausting fights,” and, “I can’t believe I have to give that presentation in the morning after dealing with all of this.”
When a betrayed partner does the kind of talking, arguing, and threatening that Carol did, it is incredibly easy for the unfaithful spouse to discount what she is saying and to dismiss it as a bunch of spouting off in the heat of the moment. And because she looks slightly crazed—come on everyone, let’s admit that betrayal can make even the best of us get our crazy on—it is easy for her unfaithful partner to turn the blame around and write off what she is saying because of how she is saying it.
When healing from betrayal, it is important that betrayed partners learn to communicate their feelings, needs, and boundaries in ways that are heard rather than dismissed. This means they need to learn to “use their voice” effectively. We will look at how to use your voice effectively more in next week’s post.