A Relationship without Empathy

pd

I little while back I watched the Netflix series “Mindhunter”. It is about the development of the FBIs behavioral science unit in the 1970s, as they start to study and try to understand the mindset of serial killers.

It’s a cool show. It’s slow moving at times, but starting to get into the psychology of killers (and specifically serial killers) is fascinating in its own way.

The was one scene in the series where the main characters are investigating a murder, and one of them says that he anticipates additional victims. I can’t remember the specifics, but he says something along the lines of how he believes that with serial killers they have probably played out the scenes of killing someone in their heads many times, and with the first victim it is often a case of opportunity. Maybe that first victim fell into their lap, and they got away with it. It gave them a sense of power, and excitement, and they get “a taste for it”. So after that first victim, it’s only a matter of time until they kill again.

It’s a disturbing thought, but also one that makes a lot of sense to me. The realization of fantasy can make it so fantasy isn’t enough anymore, and it starts to spill into reality.

This got me thinking about affairs.

Yes, really.

And if you bear with me a moment hopefully this will make at least *some* sense.

Within law, there are different classifications on the severity of what it means when you kill someone.

  • Manslaughter is a scenario where you killed someone, but it was an accident. There was no intent. Negligence perhaps, but not intent.
  • Second degree murder is intentional, but it happens in the heat of the moment and wasn’t planned in any way.
  • First degree murder is the most serious offence. It is not only intentional, but it is also planned/premeditated.

And then you have serial killers.

Serial killers engage in a series of first degree murders (though going with the idea from Mindhunters, I suppose their first victim *may* have been second degree). In law, they are charged with multiple counts of first degree murder.

But I think most would agree that serial killers are a whole other class of nastiness.

I’ve said before in these pages that I don’t think all affairs are created equal. Don’t get me wrong, they are all bad. They are all destructive, and it’s up to each individual and couple to think about what the affair means for their existing relationship. But that doesn’t mean all affairs are equal.

I have heard people claim their affair was an “accident” and they “never meant for it to happen.”

I don’t buy that excuse at all.

There is no affair equivalent to Manslaughter, because affairs can’t be accidents.

It’s not like someone is walking around one day and they slip, and they accidentally make out with/have sex with someone else while they are falling. I’m *pretty* sure it doesn’t work that way.

However I can buy the notion that affairs can be like second degree murder. They can be something that wasn’t planned and happens in the heat of the moment. THAT I can buy. And when affairs *are* like that I suspect there is a lot of regret and remorse, and “oh my god what have I just done” feeling after.

Affairs are frequently a point of no return for relationships, because trust is at the foundation of any relationship and when an affair is revealed that trust is gone.

That being said, in these scenarios, I do think it’s actually possible for couples to work through rebuilding that trust and continuing the relationship. Both people would need to be willing to face it, work through it, and let it go. But I believe it IS possible.

Calculated affairs (which are more like first degree murder) are different though. These are planned, and the adulterer knows exactly what they are doing and getting into. They are fully aware of the damage they are doing to their relationship, they simply don’t care.

Perhaps they do care at some level, but they have decided that what they are getting out of it (pleasure, a feeling of being desirable, a feeling of power, living out a fantasy, or whatever they are looking for) is worth the risk.

In these scenarios I would caution someone to think long and hard before they give the adulterer a chance.

Healthy relationships require mutual respect and caring. When someone has intentionally gone down the road of an affair, they are showing exactly who and what they value in the relationship.

And what they value is themselves.

In going ahead with this sort of affair, they are showing a complete lack of empathy for their partner.

Perhaps more alarmingly, when someone has been able to detach themselves enough from the relationship to have this sort of calculated affair; it rarely ends after the first time (if they “get away with it”). Rather, they will continue to engage in the affair or perhaps even have a series of affairs with different people.

Take the description of serial killers that I paraphrased from Mindhunter earlier, and replace the words “victim” and “kill” with “affair partner” and “cheat”:

“with the first affair partner it is often a case of opportunity. Maybe that first affair partner fell into their lap, and they got away with it. It gave them a sense of power, and excitement, and they get a taste for it. So after that first affair partner, it’s only a matter of time until they cheat again.”

I truly believe this is what happens here.

In fact a few years ago I interviewed two people (one male and one female) who had gone down the road of affairs and although it’s a small sample size they both furthered this belief.

The guy spoke of the affair becoming an addiction, and how he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He acquired that “taste for it”, and he described it as euphoria when they were together. He eventually ended the affair and to my knowledge has spent the last few years trying to rebuild the relationship with his wife.

The lady was a bit different. From our discussions I believe she once loved her husband, but she loved how the affair made her feel. The excitement, the power, the fantasy world. She continued the affair and I believe had at least a few different partners. She had no intention of stopping, but also had no intention of leaving her husband because she enjoyed the life that he provided.

Take a look at this list of characteristics:

  • Sensation seeking
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Impulsivity
  • The need for control
  • Shallow emotions
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Cunning and manipulative

This is a list of characteristics exhibited by serial killers, and I believe it can also be used to describe serial adulterers.

To engage in a long term affair or multiple affairs, you can’t really have empathy. You can’t truly care about your partner.

You also can’t really be bothered by guilt.

I’m sure at some level you know what you are doing is wrong, but you’ve found ways to justify your actions to yourself. You’re special. You deserve this. Your relationship isn’t that great to begin with. In fact, it’s probably your partners fault because you wouldn’t be cheating if they were taking care of your needs.

A few years ago a number of my readers were women who had stumbled across my site while trying to understand and deal with the fallout and emotions of discovering an affair.

There was always pain, a sense of loss, but also frequently a sense of guilt (along the lines of maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I had been a better partner) and questions about whether I felt the relationship was still worth working on.

I never really wanted to answer that question because I think each person needs to make whatever decision they feel is right for them. But I do caution anyone to consider the following question:

If you find your partner has been cheating and they have continued it for a long time or had multiple partners, do you think they actually care about you? Is it you they want, or are you simple a means to an end – a way to have a life, a lifestyle and perhaps keep a family together? And if it’s the latter, are you really any more than a tool?

For anyone dealing with the pain of discovering an affair, remember that the affair is not about you, and it is not a reflection on you.

Maybe your relationship isn’t what it could be, and maybe you’ve played a part in that. Own that part of things, and only that part.

Having an affair is always a choice, and there was always a different way.

Advertisements

Do You Believe in Divorce?

DivorceHeader

Do you believe in divorce?

That is a question I struggled with for a long time.

Because for me, the answer was no.

I definitely did not believe in divorce.

I believed marriage was a serious commitment, and one that once made, was made for life.  Almost two decades ago I stood in front of a group of family and friends, and spoke my vows:

For better or worse,

In good times and in bad,

Till death do us part

And when I spoke those words, I meant them.

 

Back in 2012, my wife at the time told me she “wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore”, and after that day we really weren’t.  She checked out on me then, though if I’m honest with myself she had checked out on me prior to that – I just didn’t see it.

I thought I was a good husband, and a good father.  And doing it all over again, there really isn’t much I would do differently.  However I recognize now that I was probably a better father then a husband.

There’s no point trying to think back on *what* went wrong.  Realistically, I’ll never truly know.  All I know is, by the time I knew we were in trouble it was already too late.

I had already lost her.

 

2012 to 2016 was a dark period in my life.

My marriage was in shambles, and really the only thing keeping it together (on my end, I won’t pretend to speak for her) was the fact that I didn’t believe in divorce.

I saw divorce as giving up.

I saw it as breaking my commitment, and that commitment meant the world to me.

I saw divorce as a failure, and having a broken marriage made me feel like “I” had failed.

 

I believed (and still believe) that how you are when times are good tells you almost nothing about yourself or your relationship.  You don’t truly learn what you are made out of until you are challenged, until you struggle.

To me, how you respond to adversity and how you deal with those struggles shows who you truly are – both individually and as a couple.  I did not want give up, and I did not want to quit.  Not when the stakes were so high, and the future of my family depended on it.

 

So instead of giving up, I tried to look at things as an opportunity – an opportunity to identify whatever had gone wrong and make it better.  An opportunity to improve things, and have the life we believed we could have.

I put my heart and soul into trying to make things better, for everyone.  I learned as much as I could about relationships and what makes them succeed and fail.  I learned about people, about motivations.  And as I learned, I built this blog; as a way of trying to solidify ideas for myself plus share things that I wish I had known earlier (in the hopes that I could help, or at least give hope, to at least someone out there).

Nothing I did or learned helped my home situation, and ultimately the decision was made to end the marriage.

The early years were pretty good, and I will always be thankful that my children were born in what I look back on as a time of happiness.  When we ran into challenges however, we didn’t rise to the occasion.  Our marriage ran its course, and was no longer good for either of us.

Those four plus years were difficult, but I would like to think it was a period of significant growth for me personally.  Growth that will hopefully be beneficial to me as I move forward.

 

Looking back, one of the things I ask myself is why?

Why was I so against divorce?

Why did I see it as a failure, or giving up?

 

In retrospect, I realize I was looking at it wrong.

The question should never have been do I believe in divorce.  Rather, the question should have been what do I believe marriage should look like?

Saying I didn’t believe in divorce was operating from a position of fear, and that’s never a healthy place to be.

 

When I was able to re-frame the question for myself, I realized that I wasn’t actually afraid of divorce.

What I REALLY wanted was a strong marriage.

To me, a strong marriage was a marriage where two people were working together as partners.  Where they set goals together, and supported each other as individuals while also not losing sight of the importance of being a couple.  Where there was a focus on the relationship, and each person felt valued and heard by the other person.  And where a couple is comfortable discussing anything, and actively works to improve upon the things that either partner feels needs improvement.

I didn’t have that anymore.

And although I spent considerable time and effort trying to understand what had gone wrong and what we could potentially do to “make things better”, nothing changed, and I had no reason to believe it ever would.

 

I don’t want to get into who was right and who was wrong, because truly, that doesn’t matter.

Our ideas on what we wanted out of life and marriage no longer fit.

WE no longer fit.

As a result, the best thing either of could do was accept that we were not good together anymore, and let the other person go.

 

I married at 25.

I always thought of myself as someone who was fairly mature for my age, but looking back I was still just a kid.  I didn’t know very much about life, about people, or even about myself.

One of the dangers of getting married when you are young is, you are both still in the process of becoming the people you will one day be.  I guess this happens at every age, but it seems especially pronounced when you marry fairly young (as you are going through so many changes).

It’s a beautiful thing when two people are able to grow together, supporting each other as they build their life.

Increasingly though, I think that’s a very difficult thing to do.

And over time if a couple doesn’t put in the day to day work of prioritizing and nurturing the relationship, it’s very easy to one day wake up and realize that they aren’t really sure who the other person is anymore.

When that happens, a couple has a decision to make.  They either use this as an opportunity to re-learn each other and see if they still want a life together.  Or they accept that their journey together has ended, and it’s now time for each of them to continue their journey’s separately.

I think that decision should never be made out of fear of divorce, or of what life will look like when they are “alone”.  Rather it should be made based on that question of what they want out of life, and if they believe they can achieve that together.

If they can’t achieve that together, divorce is not a failure.  It’s simply an acknowledgement that the relationship they once shared has run its course.

 

Divorce should never be an easy decision, and it’s not something to do lightly.  It IS a serious commitment, and I think people *should* try to work things out if possible.

Sometimes they can’t though, and that’s alright.

 

So no, I still don’t believe in divorce.

But I DO believe in marriage where two people are building a life together.  Where they are invested in the relationship, and are able to wake up and choose each other, each and every day (or at least most of them, hah).

If you don’t have that, then divorce isn’t something to fear.  Sometimes, it’s actually an act of kindness, and the best chance at a healthy future.

Dealing with Grief

grief

 

I recently watched the movie Wild, with Reese Witherspoon.

I guess it’s supposed to be a positive/inspirational movie about someones personal growth when they hit a difficult time in their life.  And in some ways I guess it is, but it’s also pretty messed up.

The movie is based on a true story, and it’s about (Spoiler alert!) a woman whose life falls apart while she’s dealing with grief over the death of her mother.  It cause her to shut down, and go down a very self-destructive road, destroying her marriage and her life with drugs and promiscuous sex, until she finally hits rock bottom and decides to reboot her life by going on a hike down the Pacific Crest Trail (with no prior outdoors experience).

 

One of the things the movie drives home is that grief can really mess people up.  And while grieving, people will often do some crazy, self-destructive things.  This doesn’t just happen in movies though, you see this in the real world too.

There are so many stories where someone suffers some sort of a personal tragedy – maybe a loved (parent, child, close friend) dies or gets a serious illness, maybe THEY get a serious illness.  And in response to the situation, sometimes a person just (for a lack of a better term) “breaks”.

They shut down, retreat into themselves, stop caring, and stop “feeling” – becoming numb to the world around them (or some combination of these things).  They become like the walking dead, going through the motions of life but not really being engaged in it anymore.

During these times of grief, it’s not uncommon to hear about people falling prey to addictions (or just addictive behaviors) such as drugs, alcohol, affairs, gambling or any number of issues; as a way of “dealing” or coping with their grief.

 

Why does this happen?

I think this quote sums it up pretty well:

GriefQuote

 

Think about this for a moment…

The story wasn’t finished.

 

Why wasn’t it finished?

Because we weren’t ready.

We thought we would have more opportunities.

And we thought the story would have a different ending.

 

Grief is about loss we weren’t prepared for, where we are left feeling helpless and powerless to change things.

And I think maybe this sense of helplessness is where grief is strongest.

Helplessness.

A lack of control.

A feeling that it doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t change anything, and you can’t make things any better.

 

Elisabeth Kubler Ross defined the 5 stages of grief (a series of emotional steps people will experience while dealing with grief) as:

  1. Denial – refusing to accept that something is actually happening, and clinging to the hope that maybe it’s a mistake.
  2. Anger – accepting that something has happened, but lashing out because it shouldn’t have happened, or it isn’t fair.
  3. Bargaining – a way of trying to avoid the grief.  A promise (often internal) of changes that would be made if only this problem would “go away”.
  4. Depression – accepting that this has happened (there’s no denying or bargaining), but despairing at what it means and at the sense of loss that comes with it.
  5. Acceptance – coming to terms with the event.  Fully accepting that is has happened, and cannot be changed.  And realizing that life will move on – maybe not in the way you once expected, but that things will still be alright.

 

I think when grief causes people to break, they are stuck somewhere in those first four stages.  To them, the story wasn’t finished and they are unable to accept that.  They are unable to cope with the pain and the sense of loss, so they don’t actually deal with it.

Instead, they shut down to insulate themselves from that pain – often acting in a self-destructive fashion in order to escape from it.

However no one can escape forever.

Eventually all things need to be faced.

 

The final stage of grief is Acceptance; and I think acceptance is when we finally realize that yes, the story actually WAS finished.  It just didn’t end the way we thought it would.

Life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, and not all stories have a happy ending. 

And maybe that’s alright. 

 

Because in life, what can you actually control?

The reality is, we control almost nothing.

Through our own efforts and actions we can exert a degree of influence on the things around us.  But we can’t change anything.  We can’t force people or events conform to the way we want.

Bad things happen to good people sometimes.  And sometimes people do terrible things and don’t face consequences.  Sometimes things don’t make sense, and there is no “reason”.

Sometimes things just happen, and all we can really do is try to manage the fallout.

And we do that through the things we CAN control.  The primary thing we can control being our own responses to the events that occur in our lives.

We control our own choices.

Our own actions.

Our own responses.

And really, that’s about it.

 

We can’t control how other people will treat us, or what they will do.  We can’t control external events.

When we try to, it’s understandable that we will feel powerless – because we are powerless to control these things.

Instead of feeling powerless over our lack of control though, I find it freeing.

We can influence thing, but not control them.  The ONLY thing we can control is our own actions and responses.  Accepting that and focusing on these actions and responses is a form of power.

For me, it allows me to understand that life can’t be fit into a box.  I may have ideas on where my life is going, but those ideas are only how things look right now.  Things happen, and things change.

So maybe the most important thing we can do is learn to be resilient.  To accept that some things are beyond our control, and to adapt accordingly – directing our energies towards those things we CAN control.

 

Grief happens when we believe the story wasn’t finished.  But if we are able to let go, we can see that our own personal story is always being written.  And it’s up to us to be open to new roads, and to be willing to see where they take us.

controlQuote