Expectations are a part of life and an important part of human interaction. Let’s say you’re the next person in line at the deli counter and the butcher says, “Who’s next?” You expect that everyone else will hold back a little and let you go, and most of time, that is what happens. The butcher hands you your package of smoked turkey and you go happily on your way as the next person in line steps up.
Let’s say you’re running a little late for a social event. When you arrive, your hosts expect you to apologize for your tardiness and offer some kind of explanation. Most of the time, that is what happens. You say, “I’m terribly sorry for being late. There was an accident on the highway.” You then expect the host to reply by saying, “Oh, don’t worry about it, I’m just glad you could make it.” Most of the time, that is what happens.
We all have countless little interactions like this every day. In fact, in any given day, most of our expectations are reasonably met. We expect our co-workers to say “Good morning” when we arrive at work, and they usually do. We expect the barista to misspell our name on our coffee cup, and he does. We expect a cashier or secretary or government worker to be a little growly, and they are.
We expect these things, so even when they aren’t that pleasant—like the grumpy lady at the registry office—we aren’t shaken up by it. Irritated maybe, but not truly disturbed.
Expectations are also at play when it comes to more serious situations and interactions. If we tell our doctor that we’re having chest pain, we expect her to take out her stethoscope and have a listen. Most of the time, that is what happens.
Similarly, if we tell our spouse that we’ve discovered they’ve been having an extramarital affair, we expect them to apologize, promise to never see the other person again, and plead for forgiveness. Most of the time…ah, here’s where things often take a turn toward the unexpected.
Because when it comes to infidelity, far more often than you might think, the opposite happens
A cheating husband or wife responds in an obstinate, indifferent, or defensive way. They dig deeper into deception or defiance and refuse to apologize—“I have nothing to apologize for!” They continue to see or to communicate with the affair partner. They don’t ask for forgiveness—circle back to their assertion that they have nothing to be sorry for.
Why do they act like this? Not only is that beyond the scope of this article, it’s not the focus of this article. Rather, the focus here is on the impact that this corrupted expectation has on the spouse who has been cheated on.
The experience is common and consistent enough that I’ve given it its own name – A.D.R.I.F.T.
A.D.R.I.F.T. is an acronym that suitably describes the spectrum of emotions that a betrayed wife or husband feels when confronted with their unfaithful partner’s unexpected opposition.
A – Anger
D – Disbelief
R – Rejection
I – Injured
F – Fearful
T – Turmoil
Let’s start with Anger. It’s fairly obvious that a person who discovers they’ve been cheated on is going to be angry; however, when faced with an unfaithful spouse who refuses to acknowledge their behavior or transgression, anger becomes uniquely multilayered and diffuse. It never fully subsides, since each new interaction between spouses, each new excuse, each new resistant word or action, keeps it simmering to some extent.
Moving on to Disbelief. I’ve heard countless spouses express the same sentiment. “I can’t believe how he / she is acting.” This goes beyond the typical shock or disbelief one may feel when they discover a partner’s affair—again, it’s more multilayered and diffuse than that. There is a sense of incredulity, almost amazement, at the unfaithful spouse’s resistant or uncooperative behavior. When the unfaithful partner behaves in such unexpected and inappropriate ways under the circumstances—and continues to behave that way—the injured spouse’s feelings of disbelief persist rather than subside.
Rejection is an emotion that most betrayed spouses feel to some degree, but when faced with a resistant partner who has strayed from the marriage, and who continues to undermine the trust and fidelity in the marriage, that sense of rejection is particularly intense and unrelenting. Not only has the unfaithful spouse rejected the integrity of the marriage, they are continuing to reject their spouse in a very personal way—one that goes beyond the act of betrayal—by rejecting the choice to offer them comfort, reassurance, validation, honesty, respect, support, and so on.
The fourth emotion in the A.D.R.I.F.T. syndrome is Injured. The betrayed spouse is injured, but again, the injury extends beyond the act of betrayal. It isn’t just an injury that occurred in the past, one that the betrayed spouse can start to heal from. Rather, it is a wound that cannot heal over, since the unfaithful spouse is constantly reopening it with every continued lie, excuse, deflection or untrustworthy act.
Continuing on, we have Fear. When an unfaithful spouse withholds things like comfort, reassurance, validation, honesty, respect, support, and so on, their injured partner’s sense of rejection deepens into fear. Fear that their partner does not love them any longer and that the marriage has no future.
The last emotion in the A.D.R.I.F.T. syndrome isn’t just an emotion, it’s also a set of circumstances. Turmoil. When the spouse who strayed from the marriage doesn’t return to the marriage in those expected ways—like apologizing, promising to never see the other person again, pleading for forgiveness—they don’t just trigger feelings of emotional turmoil in their spouse, they also trigger an overarching sense of turmoil in the home.
Normally, the dynamics between spouses who are dealing with an infidelity are normally tense and emotional, but also somewhat predictable. There is the expectation that the unfaithful spouse will do a lot of little “extras” to make their spouse’s life easier. They may do more housework, or cook more meals, or put the kids to bed, or take over a lot of duties like paying the bills. They know their spouse is in a state of emotional turmoil, so they—to put it plainly—pick up the slack in the home. But in the cases of resistant spouses, that doesn’t happen. In fact, the opposite may happen. The resistant spouse may behave in ways that add more turmoil to the home, whether it’s refusing to attend social events with the in-laws or spending prolonged periods away from the home.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, know that you’re not alone. The majority of my clients and course-takers will feel A.D.R.I.F.T. to some degree—if they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t end up on my site. Also know that this is a far more common set of circumstances than you might think. Countless spouses have found themselves adrift after infidelity; however, they’ve also managed to find their way back to shore.
My advice is two-fold. First, take care of yourself. If your emotions become too extreme or more than you can handle on your own, reach out for help. Second, do your best to gain insight into your spouse’s behavior—or manipulations, as the case may be—and learn to deal with those in a practical way. If you can do this properly (and what is proper will depend on the particulars of your situation), you increase the chances that your partner will stop behaving in these resistant ways and start behaving in more cooperative and expected ways. So try to use your head, not just your heart, to understand your spouse’s behavior and manage it—that’s something I focus on in my online crash courses. Plus, the more you can do that, the more you may come to understand and manage your own emotions.
Regardless, it’s normal to feel adrift, at least to some extent, when faced with a spouse’s infidelity. But how far adrift a betrayed spouse may feel depends largely on three things: the behavior of the unfaithful spouse once the affair or indiscretion is discovered; whether the betrayed spouse is able to understand their partner’s behavior; and third, whether the betrayed spouse is able to properly manage their partner’s behavior in a practical sense, one that is most likely to move the marriage away from ongoing conflict and toward respectful reconnection. The more you can focus on those last two points, the sooner you too will be able to find your way back to shore.
Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is the creator of Marriage SOS™. She has served as an expert resource for major media around the world, from The New York Times and Entrepreneur to ELLE and Men’s Health magazine.