Dear Dr. Brian,
Two years ago, I found out that my husband had been having an affair. I confronted him about it, he admitted it, and I told him that either the affair or our marriage had to end. Well, he left me–and our son and daughter, ages 12 and 14 at the time–and moved in with the other woman, where he remains to this day. Neither child wanted to visit my ex’s new home, and I believe, as I know you do, that what he did to our family was abuse–of me, yes, but more importantly, of our children. So, I filed for sole physical custody, even though I knew from reading your book that our courts don’t really care about the morality of anyone’s behavior anymore–that there’s supposedly “no fault” in divorce these days. Fortunately, my ex agreed to have visitation with no overnight stays (he said he was honoring our children’s wishes, but I think he really didn’t want his style cramped by having the kids at his home overnight, let alone the expense of a custody fight). Our divorce was finalized this spring, and I’m in “damage control” mode. As you advise, I’m focusing on my kids, trying to restore as much stable structure to their lives as I can (with help from my parents who live near us, thankfully), not thinking about dating with the kids under my roof, not even thinking much on a daily basis about the betrayal that led to all of this (I’m frankly too busy!). That said, there’s a different sort of betrayal that I’m still having a hard time accepting. Several “friends” that my ex and I had when we were married (not friends that he had before we met–other couples whom we met as a couple) continue to socialize with him and his girlfriend, and it really bothers me. It’s not that they necessarily took “his side,” because they do try to socialize with me, too. It’s that they didn’t take “my side,” and I think they should have. If he had abused me physically–if they had seen me cut and bruised–I think (at least I hope) that they would’ve been done with him. But as you’ve said, the emotional and psychological damage that his cheating did to me and to our kids could be even longer-lasting, so I don’t understand why these so-called “friends” don’t seem to mind it. They know what he did, and while they may believe that I could’ve been a better wife in certain ways–which I’m sure is true, and I own the responsibility for that–I know they don’t think I did anything abusive in our marriage (my ex’s rationale for cheating and leaving is that I got too caught up in being a mother to our kids and stopped being enough of a wife to him). So, I resent that they haven’t stood up for me and for my kids, and because of that, I really don’t feel like continuing to socialize with these people. I’ve turned down enough invitations now that I think they know there’s a problem, but they haven’t asked what it is, and I haven’t told them. Which brings me to my question: Am I being unreasonable?
Betrayed in Birmingham
Dear Betrayed in Birmingham,
Based on what you’ve told me, no, I don’t think you’re being unreasonable. Having read my book, you know that we’re living in a culture of orthodox non-judgmental-ism wherein nobody wants to make judgments about anybody else’s behavior. Often, that’s for selfish reasons. Your “friends” may just be gutless wonders who don’t want to have anyone upset with them.
Or, they may be “Judge not lest ye be judged” types (and if we’re talking about judgment in the religious sense–judgment about whether someone deserves to go to Heaven when he/she dies–that’s fine, but if we’re talking about behavior on planet Earth, it’s not fine). “Friends” who won’t call out bad behavior in case they want to engage in similarly bad behavior someday aren’t friends whom I’d mind losing.
Judgments about behavior are essential to a civilized society. With respect to marriage, our society traditionally took the position that faithful behavior was better than unfaithful behavior, and we backed that position up with both legal and social consequences. And believe it or not, the social consequences were more of a deterrent in many cases than the legal consequences.
Today, we impose no legal consequences, and many among us impose no social consequences either (is it any wonder that the infidelity and divorce rates in our society are as high as they are?). You’ve said you’re certain that these “friends” haven’t been led to believe that you engaged in similarly bad behavior, and just from reading your letter, it’s tough to imagine anyone thinking that you condoned your ex’s infidelity.
So, it sounds to me like you and your ex ran in a circle of “friends” which included, at best, some weak, rather a-moral people and, at worst, some rather im-moral people (other than just your ex). I wouldn’t want to invest much time or energy in maintaining those relationships, and I wouldn’t give them a detailed explanation why not, because I wouldn’t expect much of a return on that investment either.
If they were likely to be truly bothered by your ex’s infidelity, they would’ve been bothered by it–and reacted accordingly–long ago. We have limited time and energy in life to devote to building and maintaining friendships, so if you want the kind of friends who’ll stand up for you when someone mistreats you–even if they’ve previously also been friends with that someone–then it sounds to me like these are not such friends.
If I were you, I’d continue being too busy for them and focus my friendship building/maintaining time/energy elsewhere. I’m sorry to hear what you and your kids have been through–we were better off as a society when spouses like your ex had reason to expect infidelity to lead to substantial negative legal and social consequences–but I admire how you’re focusing on damage control.
Here’s hoping your dad is a better example for your kids of how a man should behave than your ex is!
(“Dear Dr. Brian” is published for public-interest and entertainment purposes only – it does not establish doctor-patient or attorney-client relationships, and it should not be used as a substitute for psychological, legal, or financial advice from a licensed professional in your area.)