Surviving Infidelity

Question:

Hi, I’m a Muslim woman who has been married for 14 years. I have three children. I have been searching for a long time for an answer to an aching problem that has prevented me from being happy in my marriage. All throughout our marriage my husband has cheated on me. The last time was when I was pregnant with my last child 3 years ago. This has made me severely depressed. I have tried to understand him and forgive him yet I cannot.
I am now at the point whereby no matter what he does I cannot get over his cheating, so I want to leave. He does not want to separate. My mind tells me to leave him as he has caused me so much pain, but my heart feels sorry for him. I am confused. How can I ever find happiness in my life if I decide to stay with him? I have turned to God, and I try to pray and pass my days using Islam as a way of survival, but the pain is too great. I just can’t forgive him.

Answer by:

Hwaa Irfan

As salamu ‘alaykum sister…

 

It could not have been easy for you to cope without knowing where it will a

all end. Infidelity is a form if betrayal, which undermines the level of trust one has in another. Trust is the basis on which we as human beings can have enough confidence in one another which leads to a feeling of security. Without that level of security in a marital relationship, we are less able to develope the level of mutual respect, compassion, and commitment that is required to nurture and build a marriage on. These factors are important foundations to a marriage which provides the basis on which to raise children, who will then be more likely to develope positive attributes on which to form their level of trust, self respect, self worth, and the ability to form healthy relations in their lives.

 

In addition to the above qualities, one of most important skills a human being can have is the ability to cope, and rise above the challenges that we as human beings will face in life. In fact, it is not so much what has happened that make us go onto to having the necessary inner resilience, it is how we react that can undermine, or strengthen us as human beings, and our ability to make the most of our lives, and our relationship with our faith is one of those essential tools. When we react negatively to what is presented to us, and that reaction becomes all consuming, we rob our selves of our coping mechanisms, our creativity, our agility, and our own intuition, all of which if not undermined, can lead us consciously towards redeeming and learning from a situation that presents itself.

 

For 14 years, you have been exposed to a situation, which seemed to have put the final ‘nail in the coffin’ when you was pregnant. How betrayed you must have felt at a time you were going through the process of cementing the relationship further by carrying for 9 months something special from the both of you. It may have felt as if your husband did not even respect the gift that you had created together of which your body was the vehicle. By holding onto that hurt, your ability to heal has been arrested, and as much as you have tried throughout the years to forgive, your attachment to those feelings prevents that from being a possibility. Your unconditional self may feeling sorry for him, but your unconditional self cannot. This may have been the ongoing conflict you have struggled with for so long, of which the conditional self has won! It has won over you, over your children, and over your marriage, leaving you unable to learn from the lessons of life, and the skills one developes in the process.

 

We do not go into marriage as perfect people, we go into marriage as people who have the opportunity to enrich our lives from the jihad an nafs (struggle with the self) of marriage. This why marriage is so important in Islam, because it is the only social mechanism that can teach  us how to rise to our better selves via the mechanisms of compassion, taking responsibility, self sacrifice, and how to access the higher self through commitment. The mundane way in which we approach marriage today has become a series of conditional agreements based on manipulation, control, exploitation – all of which limits our potential as human beings, and therefore the society in which we live. In so doing, we never really learn how to give to each other, to share, and to want the best for one another. When we grow up in such an atmosphere, we also learn to repeat the pattern. We may learn to ‘mask’ this disappointment by separating emotionally, and live under the same roof cordially. Even in doing so, we have failed to do what we as human beings are supposed to do, as determined by the higher laws of nature – i.e. to transmute!

 

Your husband, despite his inability to take control of his weaknesses, knows one thing that he does not want to separate from you. He has allowed his lower self to control him, just as you have allowed your reaction to his weaknesses to control you leading to a ‘lose-lose’ situation. If in that process, the strength he needed from you to stop was caught up with the hurt, the wisdom needed for him to mature as your husband. This is of course not helped by the hypocritical social values, which allows a young man to do as he pleases, yet regardless, your husband pays the price, but it is a price that is accepted or has become accepted in societal terms. Obviously you do not accept that ‘price’ because you and the children have become a part of that ‘price’, and if you stay together continually hurting each other that price will have been paid, and if you divorce that price will also have been paid. Equally, you cannot ‘hold him to ransom’ because by doing that, the price will still be paid.

 

If you had made a decision about your marriage, I doubt that you would have written to us. Yes, you want to leave, but is it because you just want to stop the pain? Is that not enough of a reason you might be thinking, and yes it is if you really want to end the marriage, and if you are unable to rise above the pain.

 

Let us take it that deep down inside, you want to continue with the marriage. Consider:

 

  1. It was three years ago that your husband had an affair. It was while you were pregnant. As painful as it may seem, can you look back and notice when your husband had an affair? Is there a particular situation that gives rise to him doing this?

 

  1. Sometimes, we make the kind of sacrifices in marriage that do more harm than good. By this I mean through how we have been raised, especially as women, some of us are made to feel that we have to be submissive, unquestioning, and selfless. In the process we become weaker and vulnerable, and unable to challenge the situation. Some men are caught between a desire for this type of women, and a woman who has the kind of character that helps free them, not entrap them in their bad habits.

 

  1. Some husbands feel neglected in the presence of children, or when a wife is pregnant because for whatever reason they have not matured beyond that boyish self indulgence.

 

  1. Your husband’s self perception as a man before marriage was confronted with a role after marriage, which he felt he was not up to, or feared that he might fail in.

 

  1. Your husband was not ready for the realities of fatherhood, or never learnt from his natal family what it means to be a father

 

  1. That despite your sacrifices, your husband is actually realizing what is important to him, and that now he needs your help to become a living reality.

 

  1. That you need to appreciate yourself more, so that your husband can in turn appreciate you more

 

  1. Have you ever criticized him to the extent that he feels overwhelmed? This is called “flooding” and results in distorted listening to what is said, an inability to organize their thoughts, and falling back on primitive instincts, particularly in men.

 

One or some of the above may be applicable to your marriage. Not all of the above will you have to comprehend by yourself, and one or two of the above can be discussed with your husband in an open, warm-hearted discussion which can help to form the kind of mutual agreement, which can lay a new foundation on which to build your marriage. However, in order to do that, the hurt within you needs to be healed.

 

  • Try to find a friend you can talk to, or a counselor. If this proves difficult for you for whatever reason, a notebook where you can write everything you feel down can be just as useful.

 

  • There are always valuable lessons from anything that happens, so look at what you written, or reflect with a friend/counselor on what you have shared, and hunt out the valuable lessons you have learned.

 

  • Do the same with the bad things you have learned

 

  • With the valuable lessons, write them down in a separate diary as a source for you to refer to whenever you forget.

 

  • With the negative things you have learned write them down too, each on a separate sheet.

 

  • With the negative things you have written down, takes the pieces of paper, set a small fire in the outdoors somewhere, and as a part of the process of letting go, take each hurt, and say goodbye to them as you drop each piece of paper (hurt) in the fire.

 

  • Forgive yourself

 

  • Forgive Him

 

  • Seek forgiveness from Allah (SWT), for not being up to the challenge – not because you have done anything wrong.

 

  • From the good lessons, begin to appreciate this is a valuable spiritual lesson, which can help retrain the mind, and the brain as well.

 

  • Invite change into your life

 

 

To forgive and forget is easier said than done, because when we are hurt deeply by the one we love over a period of time. Women go into marriage as emotional managers, and men have to learn this skill. Women are attuned to the problems, whereas men are not. Where your marriage is at now, your husband is slowly becoming more in tuned. This means that new lines of communication need to be opened through which you can learn about each other’s needs, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, so that you can understand one another better.

 

  1. Learn to listen and talk with one another about everyday experiences, and how one feels about those experiences as opposed to specific issues

 

  1. Learn to listen and talk to one another without being defensive. You can help each other to do this, by giving each other the permission to say “Oh that’s a bit defensive”, and the other would say “Oh! I didn’t mean to be”. In this way you give each other cues, which help to make each other more aware of the undertones of the conversation. If however one finds that the other is exploiting this situation, call for time out, and then explain: “When you did ‘A’, it made me feel ‘B’, and I would prefer if you did ‘C’. This would then give the other spouse the option to do say “Well ‘C’ is difficult for me because…” 

 

These two steps take time to establish, but once done, all the good is waiting to happen insha-Allah.

 

Remember:

 

{ And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from among yourselves that you may find rest in them, and He put between you love and compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect} (Ar-Rum 30: 21)

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