There is often an element of “punishment” that comes after the discovery of the affair. The two people within the marriage can become angry, can withdraw, and can therefore “punish” their partner for different reasons. For example, the faithful spouse can have understandable anger and resentment toward the cheating spouse and it can come out in all sorts of ways. The cheating spouse may be trying to do what is right, but is discouraged that no matter what they do, they are going to be met with poor treatment and a withholding of affection. So, they too react with frustration and anger. This can feel present itself as “punishment” to the faithful spouse, who feels that they have every right to be angry.
For example, a wife might say: “I am furious with my husband for having an affair and I make absolutely no apologies for that. He lied to me. He cheated on me. He lied to the other woman also. He made her believe that there was a future for them. But when I found out about the affair, he abruptly broke it off with her and never looked back. I’m not her biggest fan and she knew what she was getting into, but my husband gave her very little respect and consideration at the end. He handled this whole thing horribly; and frankly, it makes me think much less of him as a person. So yes, I’m very angry and I am treating him accordingly. But when he really feels my wrath, he gets angry right back at me and he will say things like, ‘well, if this how I’m going to be treated for the rest of my life, then maybe I should leave and we should split up.’ Or he respond with something like, ‘We are never going to make it if we treat each other this way and are angry all of the time. Maybe we should just bow out now before we hurt one another even more and just waste our time.’ So when he says things like this, I almost feel as though it is blackmail. It is just meant to shut me up. I have a right to be angry. But he knows that I don’t want to divorce. I feel like he’s going to try and get me to just be quiet and to not express my anger anymore.”
You definitely could be right. Husbands don’t like thinking that you’re never going to let your anger go and so they will try to do things to get you to tone it down. It’s just human nature. You definitely have a right to your anger, but I can share something that might be helpful. I experienced constant anger very similar to yours after my husband’s affair. And at times, I was downright cruel to my spouse because of this. I was spiteful, sarcastic, and bitter. I deliberately tried to hurt him. It got to where he did not want to even be in the same room as me when I got in one of my mean moods. As I had committed to trying to save my marriage, this was not constructive.
Understanding The Difference Between Anger And Punishment: A counselor pointed out to me that there is a difference between punishing your spouse with behavior just meant to get a reaction and behavior meant to express your anger about a SPECIFIC thing. The intention between the two is different and, hopefully, the reaction by the husband will be different also. The counselor basically asked me to try to take a few seconds before I made my sarcastic or bitter statements to ask myself if I was expressing a specific anger or if I was just trying to make my spouse feel the pain that I was feeling. That is the big difference. If you are just trying to spread the pain around, that isn’t constructive and it is just going to prolong the pain on both ends, serving no one.
Make no mistake. You have every right to ask your spouse details about the affair and then to be angry or frustrated with the responses. You have every right to express the frustration that you feel about the pain that this has caused. But in my experience, where you get into trouble is when you are lashing out and then ruminating and punishing. It can be difficult to tell the difference sometimes, which is why it helps to think about your intentions before you speak, if you can.
Also, it may help to have a frank discussion about this with your spouse. The next time your husband says that perhaps he should leave, you might reply with something like, “Listen, we are not getting anywhere with this. I recognize that I sometimes lash out. I will work on that. I do need to make you aware of my frustration sometimes, but I will be more aware of when I’m just lashing out. I will try to do better with that, but you should try to do better about threatening to leave every time I express my anger. There is going to be some anger and we need to learn how to deal with it effectively instead of letting it make things worse. Perhaps we should try counseling so that there’s a safe and productive place to deal with our anger. We can’t keep on trying to hurt or threaten each other in this way. Can we agree that I will try to not lash out and punish while you will not threaten to leave at the first sign of anger?”
Hopefully, he will agree to this compromise. If both of you try to pull back a little bit, you should see some improvement. Counseling can be a good way to handle this because once you know that you have a regular place to release your anger and then get your spouse’s response to it, you are less likely to lash out at home.