It’s not unusual for a spouse whose partner has had an affair to have a “get even” or “retaliation affair.” The feelings of betrayal and the emotional pain are so devastating that the spouse may want to hurt the partner like he (or she) has been hurt.
In some cases, the affair is planned out in advance as a deliberate way to get even and cause pain to the partner. In other cases, the betrayed spouse confides in a sympathetic friend or co-worker and ends up becoming emotionally bonded with that person, eventually resulting in a sexual affair. There are other situations where the spouse impulsively picks up someone in a bar and has a one-night stand.
The affair or one-night stand results from a combination of feelings–betrayal, shock, outrage, grief, hurt, numbness, the desire for revenge, and the feeling that being faithful doesn’t matter anymore now that the partner has crossed the line. The betrayed spouse wants to “even the score,” to seek comfort and solace in someone else’s arms, and to prop up self-esteem and feelings of being sexually desirable.
There’s also the feeling on the part of the betrayed spouse that the partner can’t say anything about the retaliation affair because he or she did the same thing. There’s also often the feeling that the “get even affair” is the fault of the partner who had the first affair, and he (or she) gets the blame for everything that has happened.
The betrayed spouse may tell the partner: “This is all your fault. If you hadn’t had the affair that you did, none of this would have happened.” He (or she) may be unwilling to accept any responsibility for what has taken place, and he may become mired in blame. (This, of course, is a cop-out. Each person is always responsible for individual choices and decisions.)
While it’s easy to understand how a retaliation or get even affair can happen, dealing with the aftermath certainly isn’t easy. The relationship dynamics were already complicated and messy, and now they are even more so.
Retaliation affairs only make things worse. Here are ten reasons why:
1. When the original affair took place, there was already one person too many in the marriage relationship–now there are two people too many, with all of the complications and complexity that brings with it. The marriage problems are compounded when this happens.
2. The outside person who has been drawn into the retaliation affair is likely to end up feeling used and taken advantage of when the dust settles. And using someone else sexually never produces the kind of energy that you want to invite into your life. Plus, afterwards there can be lingering guilt and regret.
3. Because the retaliation affair is based on wanting to hurt your partner, nothing good can come of it. This quote by Charley Reese sums up why: “It is never wise to seek or wish for another’s misfortune. If malice or envy were tangible and had a shape, it would be a boomerang.”
4. Having a retaliation affair is right up there with “cutting off your nose to spite your face” and “shooting yourself in the foot.” This means that you’ll only be hurting yourself more than anyone else if you let your anger and desire for revenge get the upper hand.
5. Engaging in a “get even fling” will only drive a bigger wedge between you and your partner and make it harder for you to address the real problems in the marriage. It will also serve as a diversion from focusing on the deeper, underlying issues.
6. The retaliation affair or one night stand offers only temporary escape from the pain and distress. When the brief interlude is over, the heartache is still there. There’s no getting around the fact that “You take yourself with you wherever you go.” The temporary escape won’t bring you lasting happiness or joy.
7. Getting even with your partner by having sex with someone else won’t help you accomplish the goal of rebuilding and restoring your marriage. It will only take you further down the road toward dissention, irreconcilable differences, separation, and divorce.
8. If you have children, they can be adversely affected by your actions. Kids learn about relationships, problem solving, and how to handle crisis and anger from their parents. It’s important to model the kind of behavior and reactions that you want them to learn and adopt in their life.
9. You never go wrong by taking the “high road.” On the other hand, you invite negative energy, disharmony, conflict, and unpleasantness into your life when you take the “low road.” It can take a long time to untangle yourself from the mess you’ve created.
10. The saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right” has been quoted through the years because it’s true–just because someone else “did you wrong” doesn’t make it okay for you to do the same thing to them. There’s another saying that applies here: “He who seeks revenge should dig two graves.”
Hard as it can be to resist the urge to get even or retaliate, the most helpful action you can take if you are the betrayed spouse is to find an experienced counselor who can help you cope with the painful situation.
That way, you’ll have the support, encouragement, and objective feedback that you need to make sound, thoughtful decisions and avoid a rash “knee jerk” response that will tear your relationship apart even more.