Spouses are often in denial about unhappy marriages
Question: Do you feel that there is a kind of “blindness” that can occur when a victim of an affair denies the truth? I seemed to experience this when my husband was fooling around with my best friend. The affair went on for two years before I could acknowledge it to myself. But why would I deny the truth? Why do victims “choose” to be blind?
Dobson: That psychological process is called denial, and it is designed to protect the mind from an unacceptable thought or reality. Once a person admits to himself or herself that a beloved spouse has been unfaithful, then he or she is obligated to deal with that circumstance. The extremely painful experiences of grief, anxiety and insomnia become inevitable once the truth has been faced. Furthermore, the injured person fears that a confrontation with the unfaithful partner might drive the spouse into the arms of the new lover. Given these concerns, the person consciously or unconsciously chooses not to notice the affair in the hope that it will blow over and be forgotten. Obviously, there is ample motivation for a vulnerable person to deny what the eyes are seeing.
When the evidence of unfaithfulness becomes overwhelming, a man or woman will sometimes “ask” the guilty spouse to assist with the denial. This is done by making accusations in the hope of being proven wrong. For example, a wife will say, “Are you and Donna seeing one another?”
“No, I’ve told you a thousand times that nothing is going on,” he lies.
“But where were you until 2:00 A.M. last night?”
“I had car trouble. Now will you get off my back?”
This wife knows her husband’s story is phony, but she continually asks him to lie to her. And interestingly, she does not feel obligated to “blow the whistle” on him until he admits his involvement ... which may never happen. These tacit agreements help her maintain the illusion that “all is well” and provide a permissive environment in which the husband can play around.
Denial has many applications and uses in human experience. It will permit a woman to ignore a suspicious lump in her breast, or the drugs in her son’s bedroom, or the debt that the family is accumulating. Through this process the mind is protected for a time, it often permits even greater disasters to gain a foothold in our lives. Question: Why do you think parents are so quick to criticize themselves? What is the source of the self-doubt which seems so prevalent? Dobson: It is a cultural phenomenon. Mothers, especially, have been blamed for everything that can conceivably go wrong with children.
Even when their love and commitment are incalculable, the experts accuse them of making grievous errors in toilet training, disciplining, feeding, medicating and educating their youngsters. They are either overpossessive or undernurturing. Their approach is either harsh or permissive. One psychiatrist even wrote an entire book on the dangers of religious training, blaming parents for scaring kids with talk of the next world. Thus, no matter how diligently Mom approaches her parenting responsibilities, she is likely to be accused of twisting and warping her children.
Perhaps this explains why women are more critical of themselves than men. Eighty percent of the respondents to our poll were women, and their most frequent comment was, “I’m a failure as a mother.” What nonsense. Women have been taught to think of themselves in this way, and it is time to set the record straight.
The task of procreation was never intended to be so burdensome. Of course it is demanding. And children are challenging, to be sure. But the guilt and self-doubt that often encumber the parenting responsibility are largely self-imposed. It’s time we restored the confidence to those who are working so hard to raise their children with love and wisdom.