“Originally Posted By a Friend: “We betrayed spouses (“BS”) are told *all the time*…once amends are made, remorse is shown and the wayward spouse is offering transparency and truly wants to work with you to rebuild the marriage, then you (meaning the BS) must now move past it…and move forward. You might not have seen those threads, but they are there. A few 2x4s for the BS who uses the affair to whap the former wayward over the head, over and over.”
I hear this advice a lot, and think it doesn’t go deep enough. I think it probably brings up more trouble than it solves. The fun part is to look at how to understand and then deal with affairs from the point of view of the Lizards involved. I will track both. You might call this a Lizard view of Affairs.
Affaired – against Partner
As I see it, in an Affaired-against partner, whom you-all call the BS or Betrayed Spouse or some such terms, their Lizard will start to freak, beginning at the moment of the “discovery.” Lots of stumbling around panic behavior will happen. Lots of Fleeing, Freezing, Submitting, and Fighting. Twill be pretty chaotic for a bit – maybe weeks. But eventually I think two healthy processes will emerge.
In this Affaired-against partner, their image of their past months, maybe of the past years, has been shattered. They know that. Their trust in their partner is gone, and I believe trust perhaps will return solidly in 3 to 5 years, and then only if their partner displays significant change.
Apologies won’t work. While the Affaired-against partner can generously, and perhaps virtuously “forgive,” at best that is a shallow event. Their lizard cannot forget, won’t believe the apology, and will start to plan for the future based on what it now knows. Twill sound something like, “Omigod, I just forgave a, perhaps well intentioned, apologizing liar. What the hell am I doing!”
This first process then will be about the profound shock (Lizard hates shocks). This situation is a betrayal (big surprises) at the Lizard level, all about discovering your partner lying (how much?) or withholding data (how much?). It doesn’t take an affair to kick this process off. Could be many things. That knowledge that your partner can and has lied will never be forgotten. I don’t think it wise to forget it.
I also think this process is wonderful. I think it is earned. It is a huge wake-up call to what I call “blind living”, living out of contact, living in fantasies. Tis about growing up. Hopefully the shock is big enough to truly wake up the Affaired-against partner and never let them go back into dreams-ville.
Once you’ve found your partner has lied or withheld, how do you go about “forgetting” that they have this capacity? Your lizard can’t forget. A Lizardy rule of thumb is, “If you aren’t hearing daily from your partner about the details of their inner world, you are probably heading for trouble.” This is big grown-up stuff.
The second process that kicks off I think emerges from the first. The Affaired-against partner’s Lizard wants to re-establish safety – to have Predictive Information (it just got a big surprise) and a Sense of Control (it just got, “what the hell is going on”, often called Chaos), thus it goes to work. (Lizards never gives up, bless ’em.)
It wants to know how it got to be so surprised. It wants to know how it missed knowing what was going on in their partner. And now it wants to know all about what was/is going on in their partner that made their partner’s behavior (the affair?) logical and predictable. And finally it wants to know why friends didn’t clue them in. In general the Lizard wants to see the “sense” in it all, so as to be able in the future to predict and prevent stuff like this. Tis all about a scared Lizard building safety.
This process will probably involve needing to build terrific communication skills in order to a) overcome whatever foolish communication failures led to the partner’s withholding and b) to facilitate the process of getting and assimilating all this data – past, present, future.
Often this second process starts by lots and lots of questions (always a risky communication tool) directed at the other. “Why did you do that?” “How could you do that?” etc. etc. etc. etc.
Even if the Affairing partner shares all at once (which is extremely unlikely), I fear that will not be enough. The Lizard has lost trust in both the Affairing Partner and it has also lost trust in its host body/mind. It will feel betrayed by both: by the partner and by you – yourself. “I should have known? Why didn’t I see it coming? Why was I so blind?” are questions that beg answers that one cannot get from the Affairing partner.
The Lizardy processes in this Affiared-against partner will reach its conclusion over time, when their Lizard notices that the affairing partner has become, in a significant way, a new person, – such a person to whom an affair makes no sense. This new state includes knowing pretty much what led their partner to the affair and how their partner has since changed their world view. This is certainly not a cosmetic change. Its big. Also necessary is a sense of confidence in the Lizard that its host is no longer blind. That means changes too. And fortunately all for the good.
Over on the other side, a very different process is happening for the Affairing partner’s lizard.
One thought I have is about differing histories. In many ways the affair adapting history begins for the Affairing partner long before the Affair, and certainly long before the Affair was discovered. This often includes lots of details about distress – endured in their relationship for a long time. It includes the quick or premeditated decision to put into action a tactic of Fleeing toward another person – the Affair. It may include the collapse of a first affair and perhaps of the many attempts to get away to safety. It probably includes the shock of exposure, after probably years and years of managing to be invisible, hiding in the shadows, to live outside the partner’s awareness. This was probably a life of survival, Lizard pretty much active all the time. Often this includes a profound trapped feeling of a) that didn’t make me safe, and b) neither does this. Lizard hates traps. And thus lots of panic and stumbling behavior. And, and, and, you gotta deal with your partner and their Lizardy behavior now! Wow.
Probably the biggest challenge will be the lack of confidence that your Lizard has in your ability to protect it.
Again I believe two healthy processes will probably kick off for the Affairing Partner’s Lizard.
The first process will be mostly about creating immediate safety from their partner, their partner’s Lizardy behaviors (including Fleeing, Submitting, Freezing and Fighting), their partner’s questions (which will probably come across as attacks), their partner’s genuine neediness, etc. This will include seeking safety from their “friends, family and acquaintances and the critic committees” who decide to use this occasion as an opportunity to vent their own anger and judgment. (Remember, people, and even you, are attacking you for doing your best.)
This will also include having to deal with the mid-brain’s need for connection (abandonment)/and space(overwhelm) while all the above is going on. Wow, lots and lots of room for panic. But this stuff is kind of immediate, in-your-face stuff – just what the Lizard is designed for. Lots of Flee, Freeze, Submit, Fight stuff.
The second process for the Lizard in the Affairing partner is probably again about getting more Predictive Information and obtaining a Sense of Control or order. (I love those silly but logical questions, “Gee, how did you find out?”) I am talking here about building Trust where it has not existed for a long time – maybe 5,10,20 years.
This second process focuses in two general directions: how did I get myself into this mess/chaos and how do I get out of it, reliably. The goal is to grasp the sense in what was done in the past and build a future that has more chance of being safe and reliable – for everyone. Tis not a tiny or quick task. “Grasping the sense” means converting things that seem chaotic into predictable sensible behaviors. The cortex is really useful in this, while the Lizard is waiting. I think this is a good time to use a good counselor, to help your cortex understand what you did, why you did it and plan better behaviors.
Now, put these two people side-by-side, and you can see why Trust (Lizards feeling Safe) is a major building project. Gotta calm panicking Lizards while developing long range skills of safety/Trust through lots of good communication.
Personally, I think from the Lizard’s point of view, an “Affair disclosed” is a totally awesome and wonderful event. An abiding pattern of mistrust is about to be, at least can be, built into a relationship of trust – starting now. A relationship built on mistrust has been divorced by a non-avoidable event. Gotta build the new.