Mary had been married to Jim for 12 years when she discovered a necklace in his jacket pocket. She was surprised at first, but put it away and forgot about it. Several months later, Jim asked if she had found a necklace and described the one she had stumbled upon months earlier. Jim told Mary that he had found it at work the day before and needed to return it to office security.
Now Mary became alarmed. Not only was Jim carrying around a woman’s necklace, but he was lying to her as well. She then remembered seeing an odd telephone number appearing repeatedly on their monthly bill. She also noted that their usual pattern of intimacy had ceased around the time she found the necklace. Jim said he was tired from working overtime at the office.
Mary became hostile toward Jim, but never addressed his lying, nor did she approach him with her suspicions about an affair. Instead, she showed her disapproval through her behavior, alternating between emotional distance and irritability.
As Mary’s anger grew, Jim began to justify the affair in his own mind. He reasoned that he was “entitled” to the affair, since Mary had been treating him in a cold, hostile manner. “Mary has been shutting me out,” he explained, and, indeed, she had.
This pattern continued for several more months until, one day, Mary received a phone call from the distraught husband of the woman with whom Jim was having an affair. By that time, Mary and Jim were barely speaking to each other. Their emotional hostility was apparent to their two young daughters, who had become disruptive at home.
The discovery of an affair is often a traumatic, stressful experience, and Mary’s response is fairly typical. Initially, she denied the problem, overlooking obvious clues that something was wrong in her marriage.
Spouses in denial, like Mary, often remain aware of the indiscretion on another level and, in response, may behave in a cold, angry manner. Some bypass the denial stage and become enraged or depressed upon discovering the affair. Others enter a state of shock, finding it difficult to follow a daily routine. Their concentration may become poor, and they often forget what they are doing in the middle of a task. They may head to the market and wind up at the bank. Sleep and appetite changes are common. Some people become ravenous and others lose the desire to eat much of anything.
As the shock wears off, obsessive ruminating about the details of the affair may begin. The betraying partner and others may find listening to this repeated recitation of facts and conjectures grueling. Suspicions are heightened and the betrayed partner often demands a full itinerary of their spouse’s daily activities. There may also be bouts of crying as the full weight of the betrayal is experienced.