The pain and dysfunction from a single pebble of betrayal can ripple across families for years. I just spent the last two months reeling in angst while binge watching five seasons of “The Affair” on Showtime. While most affairs land couples at the base of a giant mountain to rebuild trust and rise to forgiveness, many affairs sink families into destruction from which they cannot recover. In The Affair, Noah leaves his wife and four children to be with a waitress that he met while on family vacation. The Affair frighteningly imitates life in a way that forces us to take pause.
Despite using flawed spouses and imperfect lives as excuses to have an affair, cheaters behave the way they do because of who they are. People cheat because of what they have inside of them, not because of what is lacking. Noah and Alison illustrate this misconception very well. Noah was bored, lacking inspiration. Alison was impetuous, lacking peace. Over the course of the series we come to understand that there was greater pain in both of their lives. Pain that originated in the generations before them.
Despite using flawed spouses and imperfect lives as excuses to have an affair, cheaters behave the way they do because of who they are.
Let’s say your grandfather had a baby outside of his marriage just like his father did. Your grandmother, a Christian, stayed with him. Despite her pain, she found it in her heart to embrace the child. Your father resented this and vowed to never cheat on his wife. Your father was faithful but your mother had a one night stand. Filled with remorse, she confessed. Your father, carrying the pain from his childhood, divorced her immediately. You grow up in divorce. Despite their best efforts, your parents could not make you feel loved and secure. You end up doing drugs and marrying a spouse who joins you in this endeavor. Your children grow up abandoned by your addiction. One is afraid to get married and have children. The other, broken from your pain, becomes an alcoholic who has a daughter that runs away from home at fifteen and ends up dead by seventeen.
So, who’s at fault? Your grandmother for staying with your grandfather? A divorce may have simply shifted everything by a generation. Your grandfather? He’s the most obvious choice. It can also be argued that your great-grandfather is at fault since he modeled the behavior. I think it’s hard to place blame here because everyone has some level of pain informing their actions.
Horrendous pain rippled through three generations across two families in The Affair. Is this story a stretch? Certainly. Is it possible? Absolutely. After a particularly exhausting episode I looked at my husband and said, “Anybody who cheats on their spouse after seeing this is an idiot.”
That’s not exactly true. Some people will be blind to the lessons that The Affair teaches. A dissatisfied spouse will watch The Affair and rationalize their own betrayal. They will see Noah’s affair as selfish, but see their own as self-care. They will watch the pain of Noah’s children while remaining blind to the devastation they will cause their own children. They will see the failure of Noah and Alison, yet fantasize about the potential joys of their own affair. They will completely miss that the only way to heal life’s pain is with God’s love, not temporary emotional putty. Somebody along the way has to make a deliberate choice to end the ripple and ignore the “wicked and deceitful” heart of Jeremiah 17:9. Until then, the pain and devastation from one decision will ripple through still waters and disrupt the peace of generations to come.
How could this have gone differently? Your grandmother could have explained to your father that she stayed in her marriage because of her faith, trusting in God to heal her. Then he would have known to lean on God’s love during the trials in his own marriage. This may have garnered compassion and forgiveness for his wife, instead of divorce. At that point, the ripples from great-grandfather would have ended. There will always be new ripples to ride, but let’s stop the old ones from pushing our families further away from God.
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really know how bad it is?” – Jeremiah 17:9 NLT
Healing from Infidelity by Michele Weiner-Davis
Little compares to the devastation people feel upon discovering their spouse has been unfaithful. Shocked, devastated and overwhelmed, couples often hit stalemates as they struggle to get past intense emotional pain, mistrust, resentment and never-ending arguments about the betrayal.From the bestselling author of DIVORCE BUSTING and THE SEX-STARVED MARRIAGE, renowned therapist, and TEDx speaker, Michele Weiner-Davis, comes a powerful blueprint for helping couples rebuild trust and mend their marriages following the crisis of discovery of an affair through forgiveness and beyond.
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