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How long has this been going on? You told me it was just casual friendship and I believed you. I am a fool!
How many times did you f*** her? Five, ten…more? I need to know the exact number!
Is she very good in bed?
Where did the two of you even meet? A random hotel? At Vivek’s place? Did you ever bring her here? Did you use our bed?
Do you love her? Is she prettier than me?
How many texts do the two of you exchange everyday? What do you talk about?
Did you tell her that you love her? Did you use the ‘L’ word with her!
Discovery of sexual infidelity in a partner is often accompanied by a strong need to know every detail – motivational, logistical, and sexual – of the extramarital relationship. To know every nuance of the exchanges – of conversations, gifts, intimacies…the wronged spouse cannot help but demand that the details be revealed, the what/when/how of the affair laid bare. It seems to be the only beginning point if any communication has to happen in the accepting/healing process for the one wronged!
Like my friend M said to me, “I had to know it all, every little inch where she had touched him, physically and emotionally. I had to know exactly how he was with her, the clothes he wore when he went to see her, if she was behind his new salt and pepper beard. I had to know was it because of her that he had shaved his chest! I had to know what he thought of when he thought of her! It was unrelenting you know, this need to know.” Her pain was visible in the taut nerves of her forehead. Not for a day a week but for months.
This made me wonder why do we dig for information which we know will hurt. And yet I know if ever it came to me, I would do the same too!
Psychotherapist Dr Neeru Kanwar (PhD Psy) has been dealing with this for 18 years, specialising in issues of couples’ interactional difficulties. I asked her if this compelling need to know was indeed common, and if this kind of sharing helped in the recovery process (given that the couple wants to work through it). Dr Kanwar explained the psychology behind this unsettling but inevitable urge.
“This is one way,” she said “that the betrayed spouse makes sense of how it happened, as they trace the relationship step by step. For the betrayed woman it is about enormous loss – loss of security, loss of image that she had of her husband, loss of her dream that they are exclusive. Like this client once said ‘from childhood I had cherished this ideal that we would be completely into each other… a unit away from the others’, that ideal is gone forever.
“Once infidelity is discovered, in the process of trying to make sense of it, the wronged spouse feels the need to revisit the transgression again and again to understand its beginning, how it became intense…etc. But this is extremely hurtful and in the process she tortures herself terribly, and repeatedly.
“The other reason is linked to the breach of trust. There is a loss of closeness between husband and wife, the husband has been sharing time and things with another woman, and the wife has been an outsider.”
“So the wife wants to recover that sense of feeling close with her husband. And for that he has to share everything with her.”
“Does this reveal-all help in moving on?” I asked Dr Kanwar. She doesn’t recommend it. “Not only is it torture for the wronged person but also puts the offending partner in a defensive mode to see his spouse in so much pain. Most times the details don’t help.”
Coming back to my friend, more than two years have passed since the D-day. They have been to counsellors, fought, tasted poison in each other but they are together. I asked her, if, in retrospect, she would have done anything differently. M was candid. “The more I dug and the more he shared, the more visuals got recorded in my hard drive! Now there was a place associated with each transgression. I have not been able to step into hotels he went for…” she trailed off. “I have thrown the shirts away that he wore with her, but can I erase the pictures in which he is wearing them? Jacob’s Creek was our thing, but he drank that with her too. Now we have moved to whiskey.”
“At that time it seemed imperative, to know it all. Now I want to forget it, but you can’t not know once you know, can you?”
Several academic and expert opinions seem to conclude that
– The hurt caused by the discovery of infidelity impels the wronged person to dig deep for every bit of information
– The highly emotive environment leads to all this unearthed information being firmly cemented in memory
– Now the wronged one has actual mental images with which to brood and virtually relive the affair
– This means it’s very difficult to progress to any kind of forgiveness
But then as M said, can we not know once we know? And once we know can we forget it? Forgiveness is a complicated process.