Dear Suzie, I can’t stop thinking about the other woman. I know he’s at fault, too, but for some reason, I totally blame her. She knew what she was doing. She knew he was a married man. I think if she hadn’t thrown herself at him, none of this would have happened. I can’t seem to get these angry thoughts out of my head about her. I want her to suffer in hell for what she did to our family. What should I do about these negative feelings I have toward this woman?
I can certainly understand your frustration. From what you’re saying, you believe that if she (the other woman) hadn’t provided the lure or dangled the bait under his nose in the first place, then he (your husband) wouldn’t have strayed. There’s certainly some good logic to that argument. Because if you take away temptation, don’t you also remove the possibility of wrongdoing? If you follow this line of thinking, then it’s only logical to think that the real culprit is the woman who dangles the bait and not necessarily the man who takes the bait. Until a few years ago, I would have been in complete agreement with this argument. But then something happened to me that completely turned around my way of thinking.
Here’s what I mean:
For a long time, I carried around this image of my daughter as pretty much being The Perfect Child. It started innocently, of course, mostly brought on by the fact she was such a good baby. She slept through the night. She wasn’t fussy; in fact, my neighbor once remarked, I can’t believe you have a baby — I’ve never heard her cry. You’ve heard of The Terrible Twos? The Tyrannical Threes or Fearsome Fours? Well, she never went through any of that. All the way from babyhood through toddler to kindergarten and up until 2nd grade, she was naturally happy, sunny, and sweet. Perhaps you can see how I latched on to this idea that she was perfect. And I just assumed it would stay that way her whole life.
However, in the third grade, things began to change.
That’s when I started to notice certain behaviors that fell short of that perfect image I had of her… but here’s what happened: Whenever I would notice that type of behavior, I refused to believe it was coming from her. Instead, I would look around for a friend or a teacher or a circumstance to blame, because deep down, I knew my child was perfect. I knew my child was innocent and I knew my child was naïve — so, it must be the bad influences from these other less-than-perfect people.
For a long time, it was much easier for me to believe that when it came to certain unattractive behaviors, my daughter was more of a follower than a ringleader. So I started monitoring her friends closely, looking to “root out” those culprits who were leading my good girl astray.
The day that fantasy came crashing down…
I was working in my home office on a day she thought I wasn’t home. And what I overheard her and her friends saying and doing, I will not repeat here, but I will tell you this: My Perfect Child Illusion was shredded that day. At first, this devastated me. I kept thinking, where have I gone wrong? Where is the perfect angel I raised? What happened to Mommy’s sweet little girl? And then, two things dawned on me:
- I realized that the way my child acted in front of me was different from the way she acted behind my back. This told me that she didn’t feel like she could be herself with me.
- My child was growing up, and that meant I had to grow up my image of her.
Those two thoughts turned things around for me.
From that day on…
…I decided to take off the rose-colored mommy glasses, and see exactly who’s in front of me. And although it felt like a loss to give up that perfect image I had of her, in the end, it turned out to be one of the best things that ever could have happened for our mother-daughter relationship.
How? Because by seeing her for who she is right now, at the age she is, rather than who she used to be, I was able to accept her mistakes, faults, and flaws with grace. In return, she became more honest, more real, and more natural in front of me. I seriously believe that day changed everything for both of us. Now, she no longer has to maintain the perfect image in order to please (and appease) me. It’s interesting how children can sense what you need from them… how often they will go out of their way to become that very thing — even if it means lying to you, lying to themselves, or trying to be something they’re not.
Because perfection isn’t reality. It’s a mental cage we trap others into living in so we can feel more comfortable. But once the perfect image is shattered, it delivers not a loss, but freedom for both people. Today, my daughter no longer has to pretend she never gets angry, that she never makes mistakes, that she never gets into trouble (or starts trouble); she can simply be herself — whoever that self is.
Am I saying it’s easier living this way? No, I’m saying it’s simply more honest.
Just as how survivor’s guilt is toxic to the recovery of the person who’s been spared, victim’s guilt is toxic to the recovery of the partner who’s been betrayed. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say, “Victim’s guilt is one of the biggest mental traps to watch out for, after infidelity.” This is because if you’re not careful, it can hold you hostage to pain and suffering for a very long time.
What does all this have to do with you?
Well, here’s the connection: While another woman can try to seduce, influence, persuade, bait, trap, and lure your husband into having an affair, the choice to take the bait is his (and his alone) to make. She couldn’t have made that choice for him.
This is an important distinction to make.
Who else could make either of those choices? You guessed it. Only he can.That’s because the choice to cheat requires you to simultaneously unmake the choice to be faithful.
This is why we must be willing to hold others (and ourselves) accountable for our choices, regardless of what
I had to arrive at the same realization about my daughter. Although her friends could certainly try to influence her to make unattractive choices, in the end, it’s still her choice whether to adopt or reject those suggestions. The question is, how do you explain this to a seven-year-old? How do you get a child to understand that once she makes a choice, she also becomes responsible for the consequences of the choice?
Here’s how I did it:
I said to her, “Sydney, life is about choices. And every choice has a consequence. Your friends, your teachers, even the things you watch on TV will try to influence your choices. It’s up to you to decide what to accept and what to reject. However, once you make a choice to act a certain way, or do a certain thing, the consequences of that decision are 100% yours. So before you make any decision, you must ask yourself… Am I willing to be responsible for these consequences?”
This was a game changer for her.
I began to notice how, in subtle ways, she began correcting her behavior before I even had a chance to do it. Now, I can only hope she takes this concept of 100% responsibility for her choices into adulthood with her, but we’ll have to wait and see. For now, it’s helping her to become aware of how others influence her, and yet she’s still the one in charge of her choices.
The same understanding applies to your husband.
Of course, another woman could lure, seduce, or proposition all day long, but the choice to accept and follow through is still his choice. I suggest you hold him 100% accountable for that choice.
Still not convinced? Sometimes, it helps to write down the things we can’t see clearly. So here’s what I suggest you do:
Your Assignment: The Responsibility Pie
Grab a pen and a piece of paper and draw a big wide circle in the middle. Title the circle: The Responsibility Pie. Now, I want you to review and answer the following questions as honestly as you can. Check the percentage of responsibility that you feel is the most nearly correct. (Obviously, you’ll have to estimate the percentages, but you get the point.) Remember, none of my exercises require you to be perfect — just honest.
Now add up the total of all of the percentages and divide the total by four. Overall, who carries the largest share of responsibility? The point of this exercise is to help you discover the truth about how much accountability you are willing to allow your husband to bear. The more honest you are, the higher his accountability will be.
Here’s another thing worth considering:
While Hollywood movies often tell the infidelity story of the innocent, unsuspecting male — stalked, lured, and seduced by the predatory sex-starved, power hungry female — in reality, that isn’t usually the case. While some women are experts at sending mixed signals (flirting, dropping hints, and acting seductively towards married men), the majority of extramarital affairs are not the result of aggressive female pursuit.
Sadly, the statistics show that usually, the men pursue, initiate, and are more likely to deceive the women they eventually have affairs with. Although I must add the caveat that men are more likely to pursue women who give the impression they can be caught, that doesn’t absolve the behavior. Because a pursuit is still a pursuit, regardless of whether you believe the catch is easy or not.
Keep this in mind:
Until you get to a place where you’re willing to hold him 100% accountable for his choices (regardless of outside influences or opportunities), he will not respect you. Why? Because he knows you’re letting him off the hook, and deep down, nobody really wants to be let off the hook.
Now, back to your question.
What do you do about the other woman?
Well, I’m not sure you’re required to do anything. Unless she’s harassing you, your family, or your husband, in which case it becomes a legal matter. If this is not the case, then I suggest you allow the law of natural consequences to run its course. As I have said before, life is about choices. Every choice has consequences, and those consequences return to the doer. Therefore, her life experiences must reflect the natural consequences of her choices.
It’s not your job to patrol the universe, making sure others get their just desserts. So if enforcing/policing the law of consequences isn’t your job, then what is?
That’s a great question.
Remember, I told you that life is about choices. Well, your life is no exception. If you choose to take revenge, retaliate, attack, or punish her, then the consequences of those choices will come back to you.
Therefore, your job is making sure that you ONLY sow what you would reap. That you ONLY give what you would like to be given unto you. That you ONLY do onto others what you would like to have done unto you. Leave the rest to the law of natural consequences. Can you do that? I know you can.
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!