For many betrayed partners, the adage about hindsight being 20/20 feels very true. They look back after discovering infidelity and see so clearly all the little signs and indications pointing toward their significant other’s betrayal. They remember their feelings of unease, discomfort, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, doubt, and confusion. Then they remember how they chose to ignore what their gut was telling them because they didn’t want it to be true.
Consider the following stories:
- Joe lost his job because he was viewing pornography at work. His wife, Sandy, believed him when he said he was just looking at an email someone sent him, it was only that one time, and how crazy and unjust was it that his company fired him? Sandy joined Joe in telling everyone that he was fired unfairly and they were thinking about suing the company. In reality, Joe was viewing porn at work 7-8 hours a day on average. He knew that he was fired with reasonable cause, but he did not want Sandy to find out about his problem so he lied. Meanwhile, Sandy’s gut was telling her there was no way a company could get away with firing someone for one email, but she pushed this down because it was too scary to think about what might really have happened.
- Jennifer noticed that her spouse Keith used sexual jokes and innuendo often in conversation with their friends. He also flirted shamelessly with friends, coworkers, waitresses, etc. Jennifer noticed that some of their friends reacted negatively to Keith’s sexual comments. She felt embarrassed and wondered if maybe there was something more going on. When she asked Keith about it, he told her she was being too sensitive and he was just fooling around and having some fun. Jennifer chastised herself for being paranoid and decided their friends’ discomfort meant something was wrong with them. She decided she was going to try to loosen up and not be such a downer.
- Sharon’s husband Bob asked her to view pornography with him to enhance their sex life. She wanted to make him happy, so she agreed. They viewed the porn and had sex, but she did not enjoy it, feeling a nagging sense of discomfort and sadness. Bob, however, was thrilled with the experiment, and a few days later he initiated sex again with the use of porn. Within a few weeks they were having sex only with porn. Sharon began to feel like little more than a receptacle. When she mentioned this to Bob he told her, “Everyone uses porn, many people recommend it for the enhancement of sex, and if you were more secure with yourself you would be okay with it.” Sharon continued to have sex with Bob while viewing the pornography, and tried to talk herself into feeling okay about it. To help herself loosen up, she started drinking several glasses of wine before sex.
Sandy, Jennifer, and Sharon all ignored their inner sense of discomfort, their inner knowledge that something was wrong in their relationship. In other words, they ignored their gut, the inner voice of knowing that speaks up and tries to make itself heard to help you stay in awareness about your reality so you can make good decisions for yourself as life unfolds.
Patrick Carnes once wrote, “Mental health is a commitment to reality at all times.” The role of your gut is to help you stay planted in your reality, to notice what is happening, and to connect you to your inner wisdom about how to proceed. Sadly, many of us have never learned how to tune in and listen to this inner voice of truth. Even more tragic, many of us have been taught to actively dismiss or doubt our gut reactions, to trust what others are telling us more, or to prioritize someone else’s reality over our own.
In the examples above, you can clearly see the ways in which this occurred. Sandy’s gut told her that Joe was lying about why he was fired and there was a bigger, secret problem. Jennifer’s gut signaled her discomfort with Keith’s sexualizing of people and situations and her knowledge that his behavior was a sign of a deeper issue. Sharon’s gut told her that using pornography as part of her sex life was not good for her and did not enhance or increase her sexual satisfaction and sense of intimacy with Bob, and that his ardent desire to use it might indicate deeper issues. Nevertheless, each of these women doubted her gut, repressed her gut, and even turned on her gut by shaming or otherwise chastising herself for the doubts and uncertainties she was having.
Sadly, this is not uncommon. In fact, most betrayed partners have similar stories. They talk about the ways they talked themselves out of, or allowed their cheating partner to talk them out of what they knew in their gut to be true.
It would be lovely as betrayed partners to get a do-over, to go back in time and listen to the inner voice of wisdom, believing it, trusting it, and taking whatever action would have been appropriate. But that is not possible. What we can do is to take an honest look back at what happened, allowing ourselves to learn and grow from what we experienced. This means looking at the ways in which we ignored or silenced our gut, and asking hard questions of ourselves, such as:
· What did I tell myself to talk myself out of my reality?
· Why was I afraid to trust my gut?
· What was I afraid of?
· Why did I believe my partner more than myself?
· What would I have lost if I had believed myself?
· What would I have had to face or feel if I had trusted my inner voice?
Much of the time, our repression of our inner voice is driven by “betrayal blindness,” the fear that letting ourselves accept and know what our gut tells us will rob us of our sense of safety and connection to our significant other. This is a very real fear and not to be taken lightly. However, it is important to acknowledge that while we may preserve our sense of safety and connection to our partner for a while by ignoring our gut, we do so at the cost of connection with ourselves.