Book Review: “Cheating in a Nutshell,” by Wayne and Tamara Mitchell

** 2/3 **

My wife has a favourite chair in the living room.  Next to the chair is a pile of books, with House of Gucci sitting on top.  Since this is of the moment, and I love fashion (and Gucci), and the movie has been so poorly received, I thought I should take a look at the book.  When I lifted it up, sitting below it was this gem of a book Cheating in a Nutshell, by Wayne and Tamara Mitchell.  They are writers of a syndicated column on the topic, and the book is compiled from their experiences from receiving letters in the thousands over the years.  The book is a distillation of their experiences.

In a nutshell, hehe, the book takes a different tack than others, and what one might expect from the therapy world, suggesting that the most healing and best step for the victim in cheating is to walk away.  This runs against the grain of so much self-help literature, but their arguments are compelling.  Essentially, they say that the victim of cheating gains nothing by taking the moral high ground and practising forgiveness, as this is a self-wound, and in effect rewards the cheater a second time.

What I am puzzling over is why my wife is reading a book on cheating.  I assume that one of her friends recommended it to her.  And certainly, some of the emotions she has expressed to me are similar to those described in the book of how someone cheated on might feel, but I am confused.  She clearly believes me to be a liar now.  She has said to me that she can no longer trust me.  I have heard her words, but given my revelations to her of being transgender, I am not sure what logical leaps she has made to get to this point.  My trans revelations:

There have been times over the years that I have been certain that she was cheating, or that she would have.  There was a time even when she invited a man over to dinner because “he was lonely”, and one of my children noted to me how weird it was when she was with him in his apartment before the invite.  I tried my best that evening to not be frosty, as my mother was visiting that time too.  At the time, my wife simply said, “it’s Thanksgiving, isn’t being charitable what it’s all about?”  Having slaved (hehe) over dinner for two days, finding out that there would be an added guest just two hours before, one who I have never met before, and for a holiday family gathering, was a strain. I couldn’t understand the motivation, but because my wife has always displayed passive-aggressive behaviours I did really try to understand what might have been sitting underneath it.

We certainly had times in our relationship when things were quite rocky, and I felt I couldn’t stand the sight of her, not for one more minute, and I am sure she felt the same, but we always managed to have those moments pass and things got better after a few days.

But my assumption is that someone such as she who has such strong needs for physical touch, would surely have satisfied it.  And because there have been times over the years where the possibility seemed real, I kind of assumed that she had.  But recently she told me she never had, and that part of her rage towards me for being transgender is to have denied her touch for all these years.

“It wasn’t because I’m trans that I didn’t want to have sex with you.”

“Then why not?”

“Because you told me that I disgusted you.  That my sexuality disgusted you.  How could I be with you knowing that’s how you felt?  To be with you in that way would have meant I had to accept that.  How could you ask me to accept self-disgust.  Of course I couldn’t touch you.”

“I didn’t know that.  I don’t remember that.”

“How could you not?  You said the same thing to me last summer.”

Who needs this?

That was more or less the last time we had an “adult” conversation.  But since then, apart from the selective blasting that I have written about where she has thrown her hurt and anger at my feet, I have picked up on a determined frostiness, a kind of chill hate that has pervaded our entire household.  And honestly, I don’t think I deserve it.  

First, there is nothing wrong with being trans.  For me, it is beautiful.  It is who I am.  It is also who I have always been.  This is who she fell in love with.  This is the essence of me.  

Second, I didn’t hide it from her.  I told her when we first started dating, and I used the best language I could use based on the things we knew at the time.  I read up on sharing and having clean and healthy motives.  I was sure not to lace my sharing with demands…a common error apparently in the sharing of kink (and indeed, when it came to kink, I did make the mistakes.  The book Uniquely Rika talks quite a bit about those in an intelligent and sensitive way.  Wished I had read it then).  I explained to her that for me it was different than being a cross-dresser.  That for me it was existential.  I even talked about sex changes.  I talked about identity, and that I didn’t dress to get off, but dressed because it made me feel comfortable in my body.  But now she considers my revelations as showing I have been wearing a mask all these years, that I have been lying to her.  I cannot help that she has hidden this from herself.  Years ago I stopped talking about it and sharing with her because it was not well received, and that was hurtful to me. So, I hid.  Now I won’t hide anymore.

Third, while I do not wish to make being transgender the most important thing in my life, in many ways, it has to be.  I must accept that coming out will have consequences for my working life, for my friendships, for my way of life.  For everything.  And although that is a shame, and we might pray for a future where this is no longer the case, the fact is that there is always a bleeding edge, and we are still living it.

The book review

I do not cover the book in full, but instead have focussed on the first half of the book which describes the emotional context for cheating.  The rest of the book is more about practical steps and moving forward, and will be of interest to someone who has been cheated upon.  My editorial comment is that the book is a little too “agony aunt” with little anecdotes and vignettes of people who have written to them over the years, and while the thousands of letters received have no doubt given them great perspective, the book’s use of individual quotes feels a bit more like their material is thinner than the stats convey.  This is truer of the latter half of the book.  No matter what, I tend to agree with the authors, that a cheater should be punished, and that forgiveness is not the answer.  Here follows chapter by chapter salient points:

Chapter 1: Introduction

  • The cheater will admit nothing other than what is already known
  • The single most frequent cause of divorce is adultery
  • Turncoats, traitors, embezzlers, adulterers—are all triggering a fear of abandonment
  • Cheating undermines the feeling “forever”
  • 94% of all people getting married want their spouse to be their soul mate
  • The 4 horsemen of infidelity are: disgust, anger, suspicion, and trauma…each reviewed in turn

Chapter 2: Disgust

  • This is a primary human emotion
  • There are 7 unique facial expressions common to all cultures: sad, disgusted, angry, surprised, fearful, happy and contemptuous
  • Disgust is a healthy emotion; it is a guardian
  • We are disgusted by things we cannot trust
  • Disgust marks the boundary of the self
  • Physical intimacy and touch are privileged activities
  • Boundaries are put aside for the one we love, but when that person violates our trust, disgust boots them from the inner circle
  • Love and hate are not opposites, nor are love and indifference.  The opposite of love is disgust
  • Disgust comes when consent is violated

Chapter 3: Anger

  • Aristotelian mid-points, where the extremes are defined by too little or too much.  The mid-point between cowardice and recklessness is courage.  The mid-point between grovelling and grouchy is friendly.  The mid-point between hot-tempered and being a doormat is angry.  Health lies in these mid-points.
  • Justice is a function of empathy and sympathy…where there is no love there can be no sympathy
  • Cheating creates and unquenchable thirst that only justice can restore

“Act only in a way which wills that your act become a universal law”

Immanuel Kant

Chapter 4: Suspicion

“Not that you lied to me, but that I no longer believe you, has shaken me.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

[That quote really resonated with me…how distrust can eat away at us.  I have felt this recently in another context.]

  • What makes me think I will ever get over this?  Why should I?
  • Trust follows an asymmetry principle: it is hard to build, easy to destroy, and leaves suspicion in its wake
  • Cheater detection is an innate biological trait of all animals
  • Reciprocal exchange, quid pro quo, confer evolutionary advantage
  • Betrayal causes: hopelessness, loss of confidence, depression, insomnia, headaches, nervous stomach

Chapter 5: Trauma

  • Cheating shatters our worldview, remains present in our lives, even for decades
  • They scar our memory and do not fade
  • Victims often blame themselves even though they are not at fault
  • Hindsight bias: from outcomes we draw conclusions
  • You cannot think your way out of trauma

Chapter 6: Emotion

  • Emotional reactions are common to all cultures
  • Emotions are thought to be the goo that clogs the gearwheels of reasoning…this line of thinking is WRONG
  • Values come from our feelings, not from reason
  • To stay with a cheater you must negate the self

Chapter 7: Risk

  • The more you wish for, the less likely you are to get it
  • Our assessment of risk is about the likelihood you will get hurt, and about the severity of the hurt if it happens
  • People typically see an inverse ratio between risk and benefit
  • We minimize risk and maximize benefits as we rationalise our behaviours
  • You can never forgive a cheater

Chapter 8: Lying

  • A false statement, words intended to mislead
  • Words and actions used to create a false impression, even through omission
  • “If I had known what I know now”

The following quote arises when husband will not reveal to wife aspects of his life—his plans.  Reticence, not sharing, withholding of information is a form of lying depending on the context, and can most certainly create distrust.

“Within the bonds of marriage is my knowing secrets that pertain to you in exception to my vows?  Dwell I but in the suburbs of your good pleasure?  If it be no more, Portia is Brutus’s harlot, not his wife.”

Portia, in “Julius Caesar,” by William Shakespeare
  • Narcissism is common in cheaters.  [Uh-oh].
  • Cheaters give themselves a reason, a permission for the affair
  • The lies cheaters tell…but the betrayed person is losing life as they know it…the life they hoped they would have
  • Liars can cause you to doubt your own sanity (gaslighting).

Chapter 9: Forgiveness

  • Willfull abandoning of resentment and response to the wrongdoer with beneficence: compassion, unconditional worth, generosity, morality…NO
  • Letting go of resentment makes hope, joy possible.  It allows the victim to think: I am the better person…but this can be self-destructive and can be interpreted as losing again…
  • You are stupid for turning the other cheek.  Being forgiving is being a doormat
  • It may be in the past, but it has also “destroyed” the future
  • Being victimized makes you feel worthless
  • Closure doesn’t work.  We cannot demand closure from others.  If a woman loved a man for his wallet, how can that truth give him closure?  A person who used you will never act contrary to their pattern.
  • Closure doesn’t happen between people.  It happens within us.

After reading this book I saw many of the behaviours and emotions my wife is demonstrating.  And while cynical me said that she is reading the book to process her own feelings about cheating, I don’t think she has cheated.  I believe her.  And honestly, I might not care.  Though I suppose it would depend on who with and what the circumstances were.  But at the same time, she must be either finding parallels with me being transgender, a kind of psychic cheating (in which case I can’t help her), or she thinks that I have broken our vows.  Either way, not talking about it, avoiding each other in the house, making sure our travel plans continue to render talk impossible, is not going to move us forward.  Stasis is the enemy.

So, I barged into her bedroom and said, “are we going to talk?”  And as if it was the easiest thing in the world she said, “sure.”  We shall see.

A special thank you to my blogging friends on this platform, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Quora, and Tumblr who have sent messages of support. It really does mean a lot to me to hear that the best is still ahead, and that being trans is nothing to be ashamed of. Thank you.

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