Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Blame Game

One of the main reasons I don't recommend the book, After the Affair by Janis A. and Michael Spring is because if fails to accurately and consistently convey the understanding of blameshifting. There are a couple other reasons, but this is one of the main ones. This is not to say the book doesn't have value or isn't worth reading. It presented a couple of concepts I found helpful. A couple of times it accurately makes the distinction, but too often it sounds as if they are casting blame on the hurt spouse for the affair.

First, for those unfamiliar, let's define the term blameshifting. The word can be applied to any situation, but concerning infidelity, it means when the unfaithful spouse attempts to shift the blame for having an affair from himself to the hurt spouse. Usually by pointing out some marital deficiency that "drove" him into the arms of another woman.

This is often encouraged by friends and family when they convey the thought, "Oh! He had an affair? She must not have been keeping him happy." In other words, if she'd done her job as a wife, he wouldn't have felt it necessary to jump into the arms of another woman. Likewise, as the book After the Affair shows, some therapist either believe the same thing, or even if they don't, convey the concept that the fault for the affair falls at least in part on the hurt spouse.

Rather in my book, Healing Infidelity, I show how marital issues might increase a spouse's temptation to have an affair, while not being the cause or justification for having an affair. In the recommended book, Getting Past the Affair by Douglas K. Snyder, they make the same distinction except instead of using temptation, they refer to it as increasing the vulnerability toward having an affair.

This distinction allows investigating what conditions may have led an unfaithful spouse to make the decision to have or allow an affair to happen without suggesting that the hurt spouse is to blame for their spouse's decision. Or to put it another way, the hurt spouse is in part to blame for the condition of the marriage, but not for the unfaithful spouse's decision to have an affair. The latter is the unfaithful spouse's inappropriate response to perceived marital issues. An affair doesn't solve any marital problem. It only complicates it.

The reason a couple will need to investigate these issues is while they are not to blame for the affair, it could be the affair was an inappropriate response to them. In that case, investigating where each partner contributed to marital problems is important in learning how to address them appropriately. Doing so provides another layer for the hurt spouse's security in the relationship that the hurt spouse is less likely to respond inappropriately again, and foster the stronger relationship needed to go through the painful process of rebuilding.

Let me illustrate this dynamic with a different but common scenario. I know a lady, well shaped, who had a practice during the summer of mowing her lawn in her bikini bathing suit. One summer a man started stalking her after seeing her mowing. For a period of time, she was scared that the man would try to rape her. Someone commented to my mom that perhaps she shouldn't have been wearing a bikini while mowing. Her response was along the lines that what she wears isn't to blame for the guy's behavior, and the suggestion that she shouldn't have worn the bikini was tantamount to blaming the lady for the guy's behavior.

This is also what hurt spouses immediately feels when a therapist suggest that addressing marital issues is needed in addressing the affair. But that attitude happens when they fail to distinguish between increasing temptation and the primary cause. Let's return to our illustration to show what I mean.

Most men driving by the lady mowing her lawn in a bikini would glance, maybe stare, as they drive by. It is the kind of thing that will catch a guy's eye. Some may think some lewd thoughts, but rare would be the person who would consider stopping and doing much more. Most men would keep their thought to themselves and not act inappropriately, if they think much about it at all. Only a small percentage of men would make the decision to take action on that temptation to stop and watch, or stalk, or rape. Most men respond to it appropriately, but a small number don't.

So it is the stalker/rapist who is to blame for their own actions. True enough. Seeing a woman in a bikini and being tempted by it is no excuse for a man's inappropriate actions in response to that temptation.

Still, the suggestion that the lady not wear a bikini while mowing is valid. It is not blaming her for the man's actions, but the fact of the matter is she increased the man's temptation. She caught his eye whereas a different outfit wouldn't have. The fact is wearing something less revealing would have reduced the risk of him noticing her and responding inappropriately. She is perfectly within her rights to wear whatever she wants without breaking public nudity laws. But she has to be aware that wearing revealing clothing puts her at a higher risk of being selected by one of these small percentage of men who don't know how to behave. Consequently, suggesting she not mow the lawn in her bikini is a risk-reducing measure she could take if she is worried about it. It doesn't mean she is to blame.

In the same way, the hurt spouse tends to assume he is being blamed when his part in marital problems come under the light of dealing with the affair. Yet, it should not be about who's to blame, but what measures can we reasonably take to reduce the risk of another affair in the future. Reducing the risk provides more security for both hurt and unfaithful spouses.

With that said, there needs to be a balanced perspective. The fact is that even a good marriage where marital problems are at a minimum, where the couple love each other and are committed to each other, can end up succumbing to an affair.

The first reason for this lies in the fact that no one is free of temptation, no matter how well their spouse treats them. Having a happy marriage will reduce the risks, but it won't eliminate them.

Second reason is all marriages, from the best to the worst, have their ups and downs. Likewise the worst of marriages have their bright spots. The risk of temptation is a constantly moving target, no matter how good you think your marriage is. Anyone can find themselves tempted, no matter how bullet-proof they think they are. It is when temptation meets opportunity that trouble begins.

Third, because the primary cause of affairs is not marital issues, but a person's inability to respond constructively to their temptations. Whatever is a temptation for you, it makes you personally vulnerable when opportunity presents itself to participate in that temptation.

At the risk of appearing to make myself a saint, I'll illustrate this with myself. Early in our marriage, my wife had trouble making time for sex with me. At one point, it became so bad I felt as if I repulsed her, and she didn't want to have anything to do with me. As I sat one night lamenting my situation, one of the options I considered was to cheat on her. I even had a girl at work who had confided to me the problems she was having with her boyfriend. I saw in her eyes how she looked at me that it probably wouldn't take much to end up in an affair with her. I had opportunity. I had motivation. I suppose many men in my situation would have gone for it. If my wife sexually rejects me, don't I have the "right" to get it elsewhere?

However, I wasn't highly tempted. Why? Because I was more concerned with how it would effect my wife and kids and my own life to commit that sin. I'm not saying I'm a saint, only that I wasn't wired to be tempted by that. I have my temptations in other areas of my life. The point of attack for any unfaithful spouse is identifying their weaknesses and temptations and developing strategies to deal with them so they can successfully battle them, no matter how bad the marriage gets. Who wants to worry about their spouse cheating every time the relationship isn't on top of the mountain?

It is one of the reasons I'm seriously thinking of a sequel to Healing Infidelity which I would title, Healing Infidelity Through Faith. Because it isn't about the blame game. It is about identifying weaknesses on all fronts and working to reduce the risks of a repeat performance.

How do you process your healing steps without blameshifting?

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