Some follow up from the last two posts.
(1) I’ve had a small explosion of email, messages and forum comments of people vomiting their guts up about their own personal Elephant in the Room. This is all good.
(2) I’ve also had a fair number of emails and comments to the effect of, “Okay I admit to having screwed it all up, having missed how unhappy she was. But then she did [totally inappropriate behavior]. Am I really to blame for all that?”
Too long didn’t read…. hit an iceberg and it’s the Captain’s fault.
Long answer… and please, remember this is a blog post using the broad brush…
Whether the husband knows it or not, and even whether the wife knows it or not, almost always their biology is going to assume a male Captain, female First Officer arrangement. We can fill our heads with anything we want to believe about relationships, but for almost all of us, when the going gets really tough, our Body Agenda simply asserts itself and starts making making decisions based on a Captain and First Officer model.
Or put another way…you can have a wonderful equal relationship for years on end… but when something really blows the hell up… *poof!* suddenly you’re the Captain and she’s the First Officer.
I realize that sounds like a terrible cop out I’m handing the wives, but I’m just saying that this is exactly what happens routinely in times of relationship stress. This is exactly what women are designed to do. Women are programmed on a deep biological level to seek out and attach themselves to men who are “winners”. So when you suddenly start racking up some serious losses, women start reassessing the entire relationship.
That reassessment isn’t a hair-trigger thing. You’re not going to be dumped for one bad day or individual failure. Wives look at their husbands a little like a sports fan following their favorite team. You aren’t expecting a perfect season, but you want to at least see some sort of reasonable hope that this year you could get to the playoffs… and if not this year, at least it looks like someone made some coherent choices about it being a rebuilding season. But obviously watching endless grinding failure after failure… well it’s all hard going continuing to follow this team if you know what I mean.
So all usually goes quite well for a while, until there’s some sort of terrible screw up. If the screw up is hers, suddenly she’s the First Officer and she cries her eyes out and limps to the Captain to save the day. If the screw up is his, the First Officer thinks the Captain is an idiot and expects him to clean the mess up… and if the clean up isn’t good enough… it’s at this point she starts checking out of the marriage.
So almost always, the critical error that starts the real relationship momentum downwards, is the husband’s.
And once again just to be clear – that sounds like I’m blaming the man and giving the woman a free pass – I’m not, I’m just explaining what actually happens. I get that on a rational level as you read it, it’s insulting to both men and women.
So there’s some sort of critical incident that happens, and it’s very likely a completely legitimate “Dude WTF were you thinking?” incident, that the wife is pretty well justified in feeling hurt or angered by. Then the checking out process starts for the wife and the relationship starts to decline over a period of months, or vastly more likely… years. During that time of decline, the wife is typically making several attempts to signal her unhappiness with her husband, but they also are typically not heard well enough for the husband to recognize and make amends.
Eventually enough attempts to communicate that go unheeded take place and the wife gives up on the relationship completely and stops making attempts to signal distress. Typically at this point the husband can mistakenly believe the relationship has improved because she stopped complaining. In fact though, it’s in a very bad place. Once the wife is fully checked out, that’s when all the truly nasty stuff that a wife who holds her husband in contempt starts happening. The lies, the cheating, the divorce papers, the gathering up the children and fleeing out of state et al. This often takes him by complete surprise because he thinks the relationship is fine.
So… let’s assign the blame…
For the husband, whether he knew it or not, he was always the Captain. He was always the one more responsible for the relationship outcome than the wife was. Just like in any other team arrangement, the team leader is more responsible for the team than the other team members are. So the totality of the marriage is more his fault than her fault. This is an extraordinarily bitter pill for a man to swallow in the aftermath of the failure of his marriage.
For the individual critical incident where the husband screwed up, well obviously that’s his fault. I think that’s simple enough to understand.
The failure of communication about her distress to him, is again his fault. It is always the team leader that is responsible for a team’s communication. Likewise if a team leader screws up something, it should not require dramatic efforts on the part of a team member, to draw the team leaders attention to the mess. My advice in my last post, How To Fair Warning a Husband That Doesn’t Listen (Before Things Are Too Late To Fix) , lays out some suggestions for dramatic efforts for the wife to gain her husband’s attention when he is ignoring her.
In terms of all the crazy, nasty, evil shit the wife did when she’s checked out of the marriage…all of that is her fault. She’s making conscious choices when she fucks around on her husband et al.
Plus by the time the relationship is really getting bad, both parties are usually treating each other with varying degrees of anger, insult and contempt. That’s equal blame.
In terms of cleaning up the mess and starting over, that’s a whole other post’s worth of stuff to get into. Suffice it to say though, without a clear admission of wrongdoing and genuine apology for their part of the mess, it’s not going to work very well as a clean up. There’s always something for both sides of the couple to be genuinely sorry for, before major relationship drama can be gotten past and healing take place. I strongly advise NOT to try and persist in rebuilding a marriage after an affair has taken place, unless both the cheater and the betrayed spouse can understand their roles in creating the situation where an affair happened AND they make a genuine admission of apology.
Unless you can find the root cause of the affair (Often it’s The Elephant in the Room) and fix that, you’re very likely only going to have a temporary lull in the decline of the relationship.
But don’t misunderstand this point either. Sometimes so much damage is done as the relationship falls apart, that one or both halves of the couple simply cannot move past it. There may also have be serious structural changes happening that impede fixing things. Genuine apology is never a bad thing, but it’s also not a magical cure either.
That being said, I’ve seen MMSL work some impressive recoveries.