Cheating is a common topic in conversation. Most discussions about it are not terribly deep. They instead seem to focus on vague, unfinished threats, “my wife would never cheat on me…” with the implied “or else” not actually spoken. Some people add a “dare” as in “my husband would not dare to cheat on me.” What this belies is the fear that is present in every intimate relationship. The words beneath the spoken ones say something like “my husband holds my heart in his hands. I hope that he will always care for it well.” If we could lead with this vulnerable truth, I think we could open a far better conversation that would allow us more understanding of what infidelity feels like to the person who has been betrayed. In my view, no one who has been betrayed feels immediately angry or sad or even defensive.
Let me explain to you the shock of infidelity. It’s discovery is disorienting. There is a surge of energy that makes you shake. There is the sense that your body is lying to you, that your eyes can not be seeing what they see. It feels unreal. You think you would be immediately upset. You think you would immediately rage at the injustice and betrayal. You think that you would be immediately sad, but you are not. You are not sad, you are not hurt, you are not even mad. You are simply numb, numb and shaking uncontrollably. You observe life in a matter of fact way, do the next item on your to-do list, and then your world washes away.
I’ve experienced this twice (the second being the remnant of the first) at the hands of my husband, the man who promised to love, honor and keep me, the man who promised to protect me and stand with me for the rest of our lives. My husband, my lover, my heart’s slayer. And what I needed in the aftermath was not someone to be angry or indignant for me. What I needed was an anchor, someone to hold me as the tide rushed in and carried my life as I knew it away.