Advice | Ask Annie
Dear Annie: Soldiers still cry 50 years after their experiences with horrendous trauma. The letter writer, “Grieving,” is touched forever, too, by her trauma. The list goes on and on of the many things that people experience that they find very difficult to “get over.” Most people are sensitive enough to realize which traumas are the ones that affect the suffering person for many, many years.
I’d like to add one trauma that I find gets zero sympathy from others — infidelity. My husband cheated on me when I was seven months pregnant with our second child. When he informed me about it, he added that he had “never loved me,” and, when I asked, he said that yes, he “loved his mistress.” This came as a complete shock to me. In fact, I shook so violently that I saw a doctor the next day, fearing that I might lose the baby, and I was put on tranquilizers. Once on them, I could barely care for my oldest child.
We parted for a while and, during that period of time, I felt as if he had died. In addition, I felt that he had gone out of his way to hurt me on purpose. My “best friend” never contacted me after finding out. My mother-in-law called me a “heathen.” My parents eventually said they could help me but only for a while — not for any length of time. I had no one else to count on or even talk to.
At that point, I spent a night thinking about the gun kept in our closet and using it on myself to end my hopeless future. I reconsidered, after thinking about who would care for my older child. I absolutely did not want this mistress raising my baby. Yes, the mistress knew I was pregnant. There is much more ugliness to this story, but my point is that for more than 50 years I’ve suffered in silence. At my prompting, we tried to make a go of the marriage, but it has been a pretentious sham from that moment on.
Did I lose whatever love existed between us? Yes. I cry at weddings when people promise to love and be faithful for the rest of their lives. I cry at shows that bring back the memories.
Do I think my children appreciate what I felt I did for them? I told them when they were adults, and no, I don’t think they realize the gravity of the situation at the time.
Therapists? The last one announced, “What needs to be done here is for you to forgive your husband.” What about his learning to be ashamed and make things better with what he has said since?
Spouses of cheaters don’t get any sympathy, help or chances to talk it out with friends. People seem to think this is one trauma that gets healed on its own. — Still Hurting
Dear Still Hurting: I am very sorry that you suffered from emotionally shocking and painful distress. You are correct that infidelity, while you were pregnant and completely alone — combined with hearing that your husband loved his mistress and didn’t love you — constitutes a trauma.
But I would suggest examining why your therapist advised, “What needs to be done here is for you to forgive your husband.” It is not to get your husband off the hook for what he did to you, but to get yourself off the hook. Holding a grudge is hurting you more than anyone else. As Mark Twain wrote, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
Theologian Lewis B. Smedes added, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that the prisoner was you.”
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