Healing from infidelity
EwellAfrica recognizes the health of a body often depends on the health of the heart and the spirit. When a person is heartbroken or bruised in spirit it can often times affect the body deeply. This article is part of a series that looks at real life issues that can affect people and eventually affect their health.
As African women some of us are programmed to think infidelity is an unfortunate reality of marriage. Many of us became aware at a young age that our fathers or father figures were or have been guilty of this very issue.
‘You know men will be men’ ‘That he lost his senses one day is not a good reason to leave him’. Talk about infidelity among older African women and this is the sort of comment you will hear. For most of Africa, women have no true rights in society. Many countries are not only patriarchal but also oppressive to women in one way of another. In cases like these women do not have the luxury of debating the issues, they simply must deal with whatever is handed out because it is necessary to have a man in order to comfortably navigate through society. The Ibos endorse this when they say Di bu ugwu. A husband is a woman’s honor.
However though many modern African women were raised in societies like the aforementioned, they are also heavily influenced by western standards of love and relationships. Furthermore because open communication between mothers and daughters is not the norm, the only resources for information may have been their peers, movies, soap operas and romance novels. These sources fill one’s minds with notions of relationships that were particularly fantastic. Ideas of kisses that leave one breathless with dreamy soundtracks playing in the background; True love only being expressed by two dozen roses and expensive jewelry. Needless to say that some of us are left so unprepared for marriage and relationships that when real life hits we are as unprepared as a West African village would be for a winter blizzard.
In the western world infidelity in considered one of the great betrayals of one’s spouse. It is absolute grounds for divorce. When polled most women say they would leave their spouse if he cheated on them. However it is not always that simple. Many women have stayed with their spouses after adultery. Why, the reasons are as varied as the individuals, some cite finances, others children and some because they believe that the relationship can survive the act. So we ask the question, can a relationship survive infidelity. If so how does a couple do it? Is there a formula, a better way, or should we even try to work it out?
Tina* a Liberian had been married for 2 years when she discovered her husband had been having an affair since before their wedding. After confronting him, she asked him to leave. “I almost went crazy, I knew we were having problems but I never thought it was as bad as this.” They had been separated for 3 months when serious pressure from family coerced them to try to work things out. “He swore he had cut things off with the other girl and we started going to counseling. During counseling we would just be yelling and screaming at each other. I felt like I could never trust him and he felt that I had trapped him into marriage because I was pregnant at the time; As if I was the only one having sex! It was a very painful time. Most of the time I wanted to just give up but my parents put me under such pressure saying that divorce would bring shame unto our family. Anyway, we tried. At first he seemingly tried hard. He came home early, always told me where he was going, this lasted for about 6 months, but then the late phone hang-ups started coming and I started being unable to reach him on his cell phone for hours at a time. One night when he wasn’t where he said he would be, I took it upon myself to play detective. I found out that he had never stopped seeing the girl; after that there was no turning back. We have a son together and even though he still wants me to come back, any love that I had for him is dead. Raising my son alone is hard but I know I made the right decision”.
If you asked anyone who knows Yinka*a Nigerian and her husband they would say they had the perfect marriage. They are very affectionate and loving. However Yinka* confided that her husband had had an affair in the early years of their marriage. She was devastated when she found out; because she thought her relationship transcended all that. “He was my dream man, I thought our marriage would be like a fairy tale” However when she found out, she was undone. “I couldn’t understand it, what was missing from our life”. They had only been married a year and had no real problems “I mean we only had trivial disagreements, what movie to watch, who should do the dishes, you know petty stuff, we were happy” When she confronted him, he immediately came clean. The most important thing that Yinka wanted to understand was why? It was also the source of her frustration. During the process of reconciliation she kept asking him why and he would always reply “It just happened”. “That used to drive me crazy, because if it just happened once, what’s to stop it from happening again? You know how our men are…they don’t communicate, what saved me was that I had gotten our pastor involved. After they talked, he answered all my questions. It didn’t make everything okay, but it helped me understand him and our relationship better.
When asked if she would recommend staying and trying to work it out, Yinka responded with some ambivalence “I don’t know what I would recommend, every situation is different, as for me, my marriage seems stronger and my husband is more attentive and more loving than ever, we are even expecting our first child, we love each other but I tell you it’s hard to trust again. Me, I always have that nagging fear in the back of my mind, what if?
Enter Gabriella, a self described take no mess woman. She is 36, single and a successful interior designer whose mother is from Haiti and father is from Cameroon; she was raised in Brooklyn. She was married exactly 10 years ago, and within the first year, she learned he had a one night stand. She kicked him out immediately. “Infidelity has always been a deal breaker for me”. When asked how she felt at the time she responded, “I was enraged, it was either kill him or kill myself”. Years later, she frowns when she thinks about it.
No matter how thin you slice it, infidelity in a relationship is always a devastating experience, especially for women. If you choose to try and work through this, experts recommend following these guidelines
1. Recognize your anger and hurt are valid. Under no circumstances should you rationalize away your feelings. Sweeping feelings under the rug and putting on a brave face for the world may lead to greater resentment and even cause self-destructive behavior.
2. Face up to what he did, but only what he did. Do not make excuses for his behavior. If he had an affair, then he had an affair. He must own it and so must you. However it is important that you do not start thinking up other crimes to add to his plate.
3. Try to understand. Infidelity means different things to different people. Many women believe that if he cheats then he really doesn’t love his wife or he isn’t happy at home. Sometimes that has very little to do with it. Dr Shirley Glass who has written extensively on the subject found that 56 percent of the men she sampled who had extramarital intercourse said that their marriages were happy, versus 34 percent of the women.
4. It is normal to ruminate. Some men will say, “why can’t you just let this go”, but it is completely normal to want to go over the details several times. For one thing it is a form of desensitization and secondly it is attempt to see what the red flags were, so you could recognize them again if necessary.
5. However while ruminating there has to be a point at which you stop punishing and start forgiving.
6. All lot of couples are choosing to try and work things out. It is not the same kind of forced acceptance of the affair that we saw in generations past. Women accepting because they had no choices but rather a determination to make the marriage better from both sides.
7. Counseling is not necessary but it can be very beneficial.
8. There are points when it’s okay to throw in the towel. If in spite of best efforts i.e. counseling, family intervention, attempts at forgiveness, that affair is still continued, then a separation might be in order.
9. Loving your husband and trying to forgive, doesn’t make you weak.
10. Both parties should be willing to be open and honest; otherwise it will make it difficult to rebuild trust.
A marriage is not only sacred but can be a powerful tool in the development of individuals, families and even societies. However while recognizing the power of an intact marriage, it also important to note that when one party desecrates the sanctity of marriage then it can also become a negative force in the betrayed spouse’s life. Sometimes it can be so negative that it becomes detrimental to her wellbeing to remain in the marriage and sometimes it can be overcome. It is important to take stock and review honestly your marriage, yourself and your spouse. Some marriages should not be saved, and some need not be discarded so quickly. Infidelity can deal a mortal wound but it is sometimes possible for that heart to heal.