“There is betrayal in every relationship since each person is comparing the other to an idealized fantasy of how they should be!” – King Ayles, Author
How could my own partner betray me and my kids with a close friend?
Martha was older woman approaching fifty. She was petite and had short, grey hair. She dressed very conservatively in a subdued color palette and style. But in contrast to her low key appearance, she was really, really angry. And her seething anger looked new on her…like she wasn’t used to feeling it, or especially expressing it to others. Apparently today was going to be unique. Martha, a professional social worker, was a mother of two and very active in her church and community.
When I asked her what brought her to my office she said one word but with a vehemence that seem to surprise even herself – “betrayal!” She went on to describe her twenty-five year marriage to Arnold and their two boys who were now adults and out on their own. Then she told me her husband, who was a devoted dad, had betrayed her, had been unfaithful to her, with one of their closest friends.
Martha said, “I know infidelity is not uncommon today but why now, after all this time, and why with someone so close to us both…a close friend to us both. Why sabotage our marriage, his relationship to our children and our reputation in our church and community…I just don’t understand it…I am so confused and so angry!”
What bothers you the most?
I asked her, “What is it about this situation that bothers you the most?”
“Ken, oh, that’s not all of it…there is more, much more and it is even worse than the betrayal!” she said.
“Martha…what about it is even worse?” I asked.
“I don’t even know how to talk about it…it is so embarrassing…so disgusting!” She said.
“I am not sure I know what you are referring to Martha.”
“Arnold had an affair with Bernard, one of the deacon’s in our church!” she said looking away with a look of horror covering her aging face.
“So he had an affair with a man…is that what is bothering you the most about this situation?”
I feel betrayed three ways!
“Yes…because I feel betrayed three ways…he betrayed our marriage, he betrayed our children and betrayed our values!” she replied with a self righteous air.
“Martha,…you thought Arnold had the same values as you…is that correct?”
“Of course, after this much time together surely we have, at least similar if not, the same values…isn’t that fair to expect Ken?” she asked.
“Actually, Martha…No!” I responded.
“Ken, are you saying I shouldn’t expect my husband of twenty five years to share my values?”
“He may decide to respect your values…but that doesn’t mean he shares them Martha..there is a huge difference!”
“But…how can he suddenly decide to be gay…how can he suddenly decide to have an affair outside our relationship…how can he suddenly decide to humiliate his family…how can he suddenly decide he wants to end our marriage…it seems so unfair after all the time and energy we spent raising our children…these were to be our days to spend together relaxing, traveling, maybe even being grandparents.” She replied with deep frustration emanating from voice.
“It sounds like you had lots of plans for your future with Arnold.”
“Yes, I did…and I thought it was what he wanted too.”
“Betrayal is about learning not to idealize external sources.” – Linda Talley
Do you think he decided to be gay?
“Martha, do you think Arnold suddenly decided to be gay?”
“Well, he never told me he was gay and it never really occurred to me he was…he had some close male friends…but most guys do…they had their periodic golfing, fishing and hunting trips…but nothing unusual that I noticed.”
“Have you considered he may be bisexual instead of homosexual?” I asked her.
“What does it matter if he is one or the other?” she asked.
“Martha human sexuality is not an ‘either/or’ situation…it is really a continuum that runs from homosexual to heterosexual…individuals can be anywhere along that continuum. Many factors can influence where an individual sees themselves including genetics, environment, context and culture among others. Some people consider bisexuals as the new ‘closet’ sexuality and it may be a larger proportion of humanity than gays, some say over 20%.”
“Why should I care about that Ken?” She reiterated.
“I am wondering if perhaps it suggests to you Arnold has actually been faithful to you over the past twenty-five years but now he needs to explore the rest of himself, his values and his identity.”
“Again…why should I care about that?” She replied, her voice holding an edgy anger.
There are invariably two affairs going on simultaneously.
“I have learned when one partner accuses the other of betrayal, there are invariable two affairs going on simultaneously in their relationship. Martha how long has it been since your children left the nest…moved out of your home?” I asked.
“That is a strange question Ken…it has been over five years…but how would that be connected to our situation?”
I said, “I recall a man who had an affair with a colleague while his partner had an affair with her pregnancy and new baby; I remember a woman who had an online affair with a man while her husband was having a long standing affair with his business as a workaholic; and I remember the woman who had an affair with her search for spirituality while her spouse was having an affair with TSN (The Sports Network).”
“Ken, are you suggesting I have been having some kind of an affair while Arnold was involved in his affair?”
“What do you think Martha? Have you been focusing a lot more of your time in a particular area of your life since the kids moved on? Have you been preoccupied, according to Arnold, with other people, places or events since the kids left?”
Martha hesitated for a moment and then said rather sheepishly, “Well, I do quite a bit of volunteer work at our church!”
“Like what?” I asked.
“I sit on the church council; I volunteer with the Children’s Program and I am treasurer of our church’s Restoration Project.”
“They sound like important roles in your church community…do they consume much of your time Martha?”
“I guess I can devote as much time as I choose to them.”
“How much time would that be in a given day, week or month?”
“Each betrayal begins with trust.” – Phish, Rock Band
I haven’t been around much lately…
“It varies quite a bit…but…to tell the truth Ken, I haven’t been around much lately…so maybe Arnold has felt neglected, forgotten or ignored at times.” She said, staring off into space thoughtfully.
“Martha, this is not about guilt or blame! Its about learning each person, in any relationship, has a unique value system which comes from their unique life experiences. And each person is striving to be who they are with their value system, and yet within their relationship. Does this make sense?” I asked her.
“It sounds like each of us is stuck inside our value system without even noticing it!”
“That is very true. When you two got together you were committing your future to each other. But you weren’t committing to your partner’s value system…you were still committed to your own. While you had some values in common, you also had many differences” I said.
It’s a fantasy to expect Arnold to live inside my value system.
“So it’s a fantasy to expect Arnold to live inside my value system…he must live inside his own…is that what you mean, Ken?”
“So why do we engage in intimate relationships at all when there will be inevitable conflicts, which cause us pain?” She asked.
“Because Martha, in the pain there is vital learning, a counterbalancing pleasure, we need for our own future!”
“I don’t know what I am supposed to learn from this Ken…I just feel so betrayed and what do I tell the kids!” She said bringing tears to her eyes.
“What is the worst part of this situation for you Martha?”
“It’s the shame of his affair and the embarrassment I feel given my values on sexuality!”
Why you and why now?
“So Martha, why you and why now? Why is this happening to you and why now at this point in your life? What are you supposed to learn, the pleasure, which could counterbalance the pain you are experiencing?”
She stared off into space for a bit then she made eye contact again and said, “Ken, my religion frowns on anything except heterosexuality, it is considered ungodly! But…I had a close friend in college who came out to me and I ended our friendship, which I still regret it. …And I suspect one of our strongest church leaders whom I deeply respect is gay. And perhaps most scary for me…I have suspected for some time our youngest son may be gay or perhaps bisexual.”
“So Martha what do you think you are supposed to learn which would serve you in your future?”
“Ken, maybe I am supposed to learn to respect other peoples values, other people’s sexuality…instead of expecting them to have my values or my sexuality!”
“And if you started showing that kind of respect how would it serve you?” I asked her.
Martha said, “I think displaying that kind of tolerance would free me to let others be who they want to be, which would also free me, to be who I want to be!”
How could this serve you?
“How could this serve you Martha?”
Her face brightened for the first time since her arrival and she said, “What immediately comes to my mind are several things…kind of jumping out all at once…I could negotiate a new kind of relationship with Arnold, I could reconnect with my college friend whom I still miss, I could continue to respect my church leader…and, I could genuinely tell my son it’s OK to be himself…whatever that is. Those are huge for me Ken, …very freeing!”
“I am wondering if you have started to notice yet the benefits which have come to you from perceiving you were betrayed by Arnold?” I asked her.
“Yes Ken, I have and I can actually feel the difference…I have been questioning for some time my limited thinking. It has undermined my parenting, my self worth and self confidence for a long time. Our discussion uncovered a lot of insights which were lurking in the back of my mind like my infatuation with my church work and my fear of my husband and children drifting away from me.”
“And Martha can you see some of the benefits for your children to what has happened in your family?”
“Ken, I think it will challenge each of them to grow in ways that are useful for their future. If my youngest son learns to develop more self worth and my older son learns to appreciate his family in new ways, this will draw us closer again…yes, I am starting to see how it serves each of us in special ways.”
How do you view the betrayal now?
“How do you view Arnold’s betrayal now?” I asked.
“Arnold’s evolution is really about him and not me. I love him regardless of his sexuality and we have two lovely children who love him dearly. I don’t want to jeopardize any of those relationships. And I want a future relationship with Arnold. I don’t know what form that relationship will take, but I think we can work it out. I think we will all be OK now…we are still a family who love each other…that’s what I was afraid of losing…now I realize it’s just evolving!”
“Martha, I think you are a wise woman…Arnold and your kids are fortunate to have you in their life!”
“Every betrayal contains a perfect moment, a coin stamped heads or tails with salvation on the other side.” – Barbara Kingsolver, Novelist
Our theme for April’s posts is “parenting”! We have several new contributors coming up with new ideas, tools and perspectives.
Please send us your feedback and monthly theme suggestions…we love to hear from you!
If you have any specific questions about your relationships or any issue, feel free to contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- You build a unique value system from your life experiences.
- You can only behave from within your own value system.
- You feel betrayed when expecting others to live within your values.
- You can only trust others to live inside their value system.
- You can never trust anyone to live inside your value system.
- Your betrayers are helping you learn to respect the values of others.
- Your betrayers are helping you clarify your own value system.
- Your betrayers are helping you learn to build healthier relationships.
- Your betrayers are helping you learn to trust yourself.
- Your betrayers are serving you by resolving your delusions about trust.