The Innocence of Betrayal

I’ve been thinking about the raw subject of betrayal, and the thousand and one ways in which we can commit this seemingly hideous act of human behaviour. But I’ve also been thinking – is it really hideous? Or is it just a human act that we are hardly capable of controlling in certain circumstances?

“I love you”, for instance. How often might we say those words, after years of being in a relationship that has gone downhill, especially within the formal bonds of marriage, and not really mean them any more? But at the same time, not wanting to hurt the other person, especially if they are seeking our reassurance? So then the words become a lie, a betrayal; we don’t really mean them, but we say them with a smile on our face – a small betrayal meant in good faith, and therefore innocent. But a lie, nonetheless.

And what about the classic art of betrayal: the big one, the one that we all associate the ugly word with – as in deceiving our partner by having an affair? Can such an act even be called an ‘art’, or is it just something that we stumble into unintentionally, not setting out to hurt or wreck lives, but somehow feeling compelled to go along with our passions, whatever the unintended outcome, and for whatever justifications we pepper our consciences with? Perhaps the need for more space? Perhaps the feeling that we were drifting apart? Perhaps a conviction that the marriage/relationship would have ended anyway? Or, perhaps most poignantly, because our partner was feeling unloved, and therefore sought emotional and physical solace elsewhere? Verdict: Not Guilty.

In recent months, my own marriage has undergone the unbearable turmoil of betrayal, as any of you who have read my earlier blogs will be aware. And believe me when I say that the immediate instinct of the betrayed person – the victim, rather than the perpetrator – undergoes an entire gamut of emotions from A to Z! Any of you who have been through similar experiences will understand me fully. At first there’s shock, then comes the disbelief, then a slow, resistant dawning of belief, then the pain starts cutting and sawing and hacking its way into our raw innards, then there’s anger that’s so intense, at times you almost feel out of control deep inside, even though you may be skilled enough not to show it to the world at large. And then, at some undecided point in this obscure thing called ‘time’ that we so wish could annihilate us, an amalgam of all those reactions becomes our daily state of emotional play. But it’s still not over yet – because this amalgam slowly introduces the art of speculation, even a difficult kind of understanding. The need to understand our partner’s motives, and seek answers to the question: why did they do it?

When you reach this questioning stage of the healing cycle – that is, if there really is full healing out there in the grand scheme of things – then that’s when the word ‘innocence’ begins to rear its unsuspecting head.

So why did our partner do it? ‘It’ being the terminal act that shattered our love (or what was left of it), our togetherness, our companionship, our memories, our united future … in short, everything that we ever were as a couple, and still hoped to be – until one of us cast the other’s world asunder, creating the role of victim and perpetrator in this ‘crime’. But was it a crime? Was the act of falling for another person entirely, 100% wrong? Guilty, as opposed to innocent?

I’m sure that all perpetrators of marital infidelity have their own reasoning, their own excuses, justification. And maybe in most cases they are right to seek absolution. After all, what marriage on earth is perfect? And if it isn’t perfect, then doesn’t its very imperfection allow grounds for the verdict of ‘innocent’ to be pronounced upon the accused? Does any spouse commit an act of adultery just to be bad? Just for the hell of it? To deliberately hurt their partner because they like the feel of hurting someone close to them? Okay, perhaps some of them do if they are psychopaths, or if their partner has simply been guilty of no longer loving them enough?

And there it is. At least in my case it is. I pronounce myself guilty of the act of no longer feeling the same love that I once did, all of twenty years ago. But is that a crime? How many partners still love and desire their partner with an equal passion after years and years of living together, day in day out? Therefore, at the same time I pronounce myself innocent. And I accept – at least on good days – that my errant hubby is also innocent. His excuse for why he did what he did is because he had felt unloved, unwanted, a stranger in his own home, for such a very long time. And could I deny it? Can I deny it?

No, I can’t. That’s the truth. And therefore, I pronounce both hubby and me INNOCENT.

But doing so doesn’t take the pain away. His betrayal still hurts. In a perfect world, betrayal wouldn’t exist. But neither would the demise of love and desire.


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