Anger is what we feel as a response to injustice. Disappointment is our response to unmet expectations. These feelings are important safety mechanisms ; they are alerting you that something is very wrong.
In Ann Patchett’s essay “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” she recalls the greatest piece of instruction she ever received about marriage. An acquaintance asked Ann, “Does your husband make you a better person?”
Ann responded with, “It’s so much more complicated than that.”
To which the other woman replied, “It’s not more complicated than that. That’s all there is: Does he make you better and do you make him better?”
It’s been slowly dawning on me, 18 months into what is supposed to be “recovery and rebuilding,” that if fundamental change hasn’t happened by now, it’s probably not going to happen. This is strangely freeing.
In The Dance of Connection, Harriet Lerner gently and sagely points out that “The wrongdoer may never except responsibility… People can’t be more honest with us than they are with themselves.” She goes on to say, “We like to believe that any crucial relationship can be repaired if only we persist in saying the right words. We want results. But in some circumstances your words will never touch the other person.”
You, I, and so many others on this forum are in unbalanced marriages shattered by injustice and unmet expectations. We have been betrayed, first by the affairs, and then by the death-by-a-thousand-cuts behaviors and attitudes of the cheating spouse afterward. We find ourselves doing the bulk of the emotional labor, with little to no fruit.
Lerner writes: “We can become attached to our pain. We also get attached to the idea that if we stay angry long enough, and keep thinking about it hard enough, the person who wronged us will realize how terribly they’ve treated us – which won’t ever happen of course… It’s hard to give up the magical fantasy that hanging onto justified rage will someday force the other person to suddenly see the light… and… I feel equally if not more miserable… If it hasn’t happened yet, the person who hurt you will never get it.”
We deserve partners who put as much effort into the relationship as we do. We have all worked so hard to make our cheating spouses “a better person.” But unless the cheating spouse does the hard work on herself or himself, there’s really very little we can do to effect change.
Our anger and disappointment might actually be gifts that prompt us to choose self care and self respect. I’m learning how to be with these feelings, and thank them, and then choose differently than I have in the past.
Have you listened to Tim & Sharon’s latest Recovery Room podcast, #501? I urge us all to put it on repeat.