When my friend Kate finally collected enough courage to end her 12-year marriage to Will, she was suffering all the symptoms of a victim of domestic abuse. She had panic attacks, was in a state of depression, her self-esteem was in the gutter, and her sense of reality was distorted.
In the beginning, Kate would have scoffed at the idea that she had been a victim of domestic abuse. After all, Will “had only cheated” on her. He had not laid a hand on her, yet he had managed to undermine and diminish her through his long-time affair with an old high school girlfriend.
Kate had done what many victims of infidelity do. She failed to realize that in trying to save her marriage, she had destroyed herself by not recognizing that she was as emotionally vulnerable as any abuse victim.
Why do I believe that infidelity is a form of domestic abuse? Because infidelity can be as devastating as a physical attack. Infidelity makes a spouse humiliated, hurt, and helpless. Ultimately, it is experienced as a grave loss, the death of trust. When a husband cheats, he directly attacks his wife’s sense of worth.
In coaching women who are going through divorce due to a husband’s infidelity, I’ve found there to be common characteristics with victims of domestic abuse:
• Both can become an ongoing aspect of marriage. There is a recurring cycle in which the abusive or cheating husband is repentant and the marital relationship functions well. Then there is another episode of abuse or infidelity.
• The husbands may show brief periods of guilt or remorse, but usually seem insensitive to the pain they have caused. Most will not accept responsibility for the suffering they cause.
• The victim suffers from low self-esteem, a sense of worthlessness, a lack of control over her life, a dependency on her husband, and a distorted sense of reality in which she believes that what happens is her fault.
If you’ve found yourself in the same situation as Kate and have become an unwitting victim of domestic abuse isn’t it time to break the cycle? Instead of driving yourself to distraction why not face the simple fact that your husband’s infidelity is his choice and that choice was abusive in nature. His choices may leave you with no choice but to end the marriage.
In How To Survive The Loss of Love, Harold H. Bloomfield states that “starting over seems too big a task and often the victim feels as though she cannot live without her once-true other. Infidelity shatters her assumptions of what her life once held true. The one who was her security is now her source of danger. When safety is threatened, we have abuse.”
If your husband is cheating, take action. Tell him that his behavior is unacceptable. Set boundaries and be able to stand by those boundaries. Don’t allow dependence on an unhealthy marriage to tear down your ability to live life on your own terms and free of abuse.
You may not save your marriage, but you will save yourself.
How to Catch a Cheating Husband, 15 Signs to look for if you suspect your mate is cheating