Friday, December 29, 2006
Dismaying Story # 96: Uncharacteristic Behavior
This question came to me by way of my colleague Rod Smith, a family therapist, coach, author and newspaper columnist whose blog is listed in my sidebar under Difficult Relationships.
My girlfriend and I, both 24 years old, have been in a committed relationship for four and a half years. We both form part of an extended social group involving university and church activities. She has been loved and accepted as part of my family as we intend to marry after we complete our studies in 2007. All of her immediate family has emigrated. We have slept together but in the context of a committed loving relationship.
Recently, all within a few weeks, she began an sms flirtation with the boyfriend of a friend of hers (an old school friend not part of our group who is overseas for a while) which developed into exchanging provocative emails in which she sent him full frontal nude pictures of herself. They did meet a few times and she then drove a considerable distance to spend the night with him one night. This obviously took place without my knowledge.
Through our extensive social network, I and our friends have found out, and are shocked and confused by her uncharacteristic behavior and betrayal. She does not deny anything, but strangely does not understand and can not explain her actions and appears to be embarrassed and upset about what she has done, although I have to wonder if this has only surfaced because she has been found out.
My family and I now face a choice of assisting her (and me) perhaps with counseling to discover the root of her actions and reconcile, or to move our lives forward without her to avoid further betrayal.
My question is – can you offer any insight as to why someone might suddenly behave in a manner so out of keeping with their normal character, and although understanding the hurt she has caused can not offer any explanation?
Signed, Baffled and Surprised
Dear Baffled and Surprised,
When you say her dalliance is uncharacteristic, ask yourself if that is in comparison with (a) her inner characteristics, or (b) your experience with her. It can only be the latter, because there is no way for you to understand her nature except through her external actions; only she can experience her hopes, desires, dreams, and emotions directly.
In the past you have seen her behave as a committed, church-going individual. Now you see a completely different side of her exposed and you ask yourself if your longstanding opinions could be wrong. You planned to marry, and you became committed to this plan in every sense of the word. You have invested a considerable amount of time, energy and emotion into your dream for the future, and quite understandably you would rather not have to abandon this dream and start over. You are grieving the possible loss of your idyllic future together and grasping for some possibility that would allow you to regain what you have lost.
Your letter implies the possibility of some psychological or medical condition that might explain the affair as an uncontrollable sudden impulse that surprised even her, something for which she could be treated and cured so you could have your future back. This is so extremely unlikely that I would categorize it under wishful thinking on your part. If she had some treatable condition that affected her behavior to that extent, this would have exhibited itself in many aspects of her life.
Instead, she behaved normally toward you in every way while she snuck around behind your back and very deliberately worked her way from flirtation to brazen overture and finally a sexual affair. She clearly wanted this, planned it, orchestrated it and made it happen. Is this out of character for her? In one sense it is -- this is a departure from your past experience with her. She has now shown you, however, that her true nature extends beyond what you have known in the past. You have discovered her to be two-faced, deceitful and selfish, but this is inconsistent with your cherished future plans so you don't want to believe it.
She is embarrassed because she got caught, period. She is not at all confused about why she had the affair; she did it because she wanted to, because her commitment to your relationship is nowhere near as complete as your own. She didn't offer any explanation to you because she had none that would satisfy you and allow your relationship to continue. She wants her safe engagement and her fun on the side, and she knows she would lose you if she told you the bald truth about why she had the affair.
If you marry this woman, you are letting yourself in for more of the same kind of treatment. Continuing with her will send a clear message that she can engage in whatever kind of behavior she wants and you will find a way to sweep it under the rug and keep on truckin'.
This is not a case for therapy. My advice is to run. Cut your losses and start fresh.
All the best,