With today merrily prancing towards Christmas, like a sparkly, nauseatingly chirpy Elf, determined to guilt us into celebrating goodwill towards all, it brings with it memories that I wish had not been made. However, made they were, and I have been reflecting on how we react, act, and progress after the discovery of infidelity in our relationships.
Infidelity can leave the betrayed partner emotionally and physically frozen. In the immediate aftermath of discovery of an affair, shock, rage, fear, and disbelief can all morph into one resounding dose of immobilizing ‘What The Fuck’, where cognitive function does little more than play the same thoughts over and over and over. It’s like being trapped in time with this devastating revelation being played on repeat, at full blast, and in brilliant, full-screen, high def, glory.
Over time though, that sense of WTF mutates. It passes through the vacillating evolutionary stages of hate, fury, denial and sobbing that are eventually labelled manifestations of grief. I recall a conversation with a psychologist where I was asked to explain my understanding of what grief really was. I responded that I believe that grief is really self-pity. Whether it’s grief for the loss of a loved one through death, or the end of a relationship, I believe that the pain we feel is a selfish pain. Our grief mostly focuses on what WE have lost when a loved one dies. Yes, we can tip a hat to the life and opportunities that the loved one will now not experience, but mostly, our pain is for ourselves and OUR loss.
There is so much pain and devastation in the wake of discovered infidelity and I believe that it stems from the same place of grief aka self-pity - it’s a sense of what we have lost for ourselves. Where the cheating spouse actually leaves the relationship for the affair partner (or not - sometimes they just leave, using the discovered affair like an exit strategy), the sense of outrage is enormous, the sense of injustice is overwhelming, and our sense of what we have lost can be debilitating.
A Personal Disservice
It’s natural to grieve for the end of a relationship, no matter how that end came about, yet often it reduces into a form of self-loathing, self-recrimination, and loss of self-esteem. It’s not uncommon for people to detest their ‘new life’, their cheating partner, and predict a future for themselves where they are forever alone, or will mistrust every new relationship. All of these emotions and feelings are legitimate, but really they are prettily packaged forms of destructive self-pity.
When we settle into this place of grief where the pain is less acute, and the endless repeat cycle of ‘mind movies’ and recalled betrayals don’t cripple but are instead a significant handicap, it can be difficult to get out of. There is a strange comfort in that familiar sense of what is ultimately, self-pity. I don’t use that term to be harsh, but it is (I believe) entirely accurate. I don’t hold myself in lofty disapproval of it either - I’ve wallowed around in it so much that my entire life became nothing more than a glorified personal mud-hole for me to sink into and flail aimlessly around in, righteous in my surety that I deserved such a reaction. I choose the term self-pity from experience, not judgement.
When we find ourselves waking up in the morning to dive headlong into the mud-hole without first stopping for coffee, or exchanging sleep for an extended wallow in the stinking ooze, or immersing ourselves in the mire and muttering darkly that if someone wants to find us, they can damn well come on in to our private world of hell to see how it feels … well, to my mind, it’s way beyond time to implement some changes and stop feeling sorry for ourselves.
Instead of starring in your own melodrama over the next week or so, where you will probably find that Chirpy Elf so repugnant that you rather fancy stringing him up by his Christmas Nuts, decide instead to find ways to celebrate the relationships in your life that haven’t failed you (and no, I don’t mean a relationship with a bottle or some other substance!). Spend Christmas with a friend instead of sitting in calculating how many strings of Christmas lights might be needed to strangle the cheater and their affair partner. Treat yourself to something that is a fun distraction (a movie, a game etc), and decide to laugh and have fun with your kids, or other family. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Put on a silly Santa hat with flashing lights and take the dog for a long walk and shout MERRY CHRISTMAS to anyone you encounter and laugh like a maniac.
Do anything but down half a bottle of Bacardi in 15 minutes and then spend the entire day passed out on the bathroom floor, climbing into the bath when you regain consciousness because on some level you realize that you can be sluiced off in there, should it become necessary … Trust me. There are much better ways to spend Christmas.
Stephen Fry on Self-Pity