By Ox Drover
Someone was talking about how she should have seen what her ex-significant other was up to with all of his sweet words. He was in prison, and telling her how he had changed and found the light and how wonderful things would be when he got out. She knew what he had done to get in there, the bad acts he had committed, but she chose to believe his “sincere remorse.” Now she wanted to know why she had been so stupid.
She wasn’t “stupid”—she was using denial to protect herself from something so painful the thought of it “scared her to death.”
Years ago, when I was married the first time, my husband and I were friends with a couple. I felt close friendship with both the man and the woman. I knew that they had been separated once in their long marriage because she had caught him cheating, and that they had lived separate for a year or so before getting back together. I also knew that the woman would not put up with any more cheating on the man’s part. She had made up her mind that if he cheated again, that would be it. They would separate and divorce.
The life they had made as a couple was satisfying. They had an adopted son. The man had a good, steady federal job. They had a paid-for home and some land in a community they liked. She was a stay-at-home wife who enjoyed that role and kept busy with homemaking and taking care of their son.
After my husband and I separated, I was totally devastated and frequently I would take my two young sons and go to my couple-friends’ home to spend the weekend. They lived out in the country and raised meat animals for sale. Our children were friends, and I considered both the man and the woman to be my friends.
One weekend a month or so, my boys and I went to see them for the weekend. Just before dinner on a still, bright and light Saturday afternoon, the man mentioned he had some new animals in the barn that he wanted to show me. With the full knowledge of his wife, who was cooking dinner, we walked out to the barn to see them. While we were walking down the aisle my friend appeared to stumble and fall, and I tried to catch him, but then realized he was making a “lunge” at me, literally!
I gave him a firm “NO!” and backed away from him. He got a sheepish grin on his face and said, “Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying.” I said, “Yes, I CAN blame a guy for trying, but I love your wife and I will not tell her what you just did.”
We went back in the house and ate supper. After supper, the boys and I left instead of spending the night. I was disturbed by my “friend” lunging at me, but I felt that it was wrong to tell his wife what he had done because I knew it would hurt her. I doubted that he would tell her, so I decided to just stay away from him without someone else present.
About two weeks later, in company with another female friend of mine, I went to visit the couple for an hour or so, and the wife was very, very “cool” to me. I couldn’t figure out why she would treat me in such a manner. After we left, I started discussing the situation with the girlfriend who had gone with me, and she said, “Silly, he figured you would tell her even though you had said you wouldn’t, so he had beat you to the punch, and he told his wife that YOU made a pass at him.” DUH!
Well, obviously my friend had it figured out, and that was exactly what this serially cheating, unrepentant creep had done. He had told his wife (my friend) that I had made a pass at him.
His wife knew me pretty well, I think, and she knew I would not have in any way encouraged her husband to make a pass at me. She knew also that I was reeling from the separation from my husband in a divorce from hell, and she knew her husband was a serial cheater in the past. But she chose to believe him. She went into denial about what she knew or suspected was the truth—that her husband was lying to her (again) to protect his behavior.
She knew if she acknowledged the truth, that her husband was a lying cheat who would not stop trying to cheat, she would have had to leave him, and she didn’t want to do that. The pain and financial problems, the loss of the “lifestyle,” would have been too painful, so it was easier to deny what she knew was true, and to get mad at me, rather than accept the truth.
What would have happened, I asked myself, if she had believed what she knew, instead of what he said? What would the woman whose man was in prison have done if she really looked at his actions, rather than listen to what he said? They would have had to act on those truths, and because the very thought of acting on those things was so painful, they chose to believe the lie. It was the less painful option.
I, too, have chosen denial of the seriousness of the things that were true. I did not want to admit that someone was evil, that they will not change because they do not want to, that a lifetime pattern of doing illegal, immoral and mean things means that person is not likely to alter that pattern. I did not want to accept that truth.
Denial in the short term is a salve to the heart of the devastated one who cannot immediately accept the whole raw truth that, for example, their loved one has been killed in an accident. They must accept that truth a bite at a time, like eating an elephant. Short term, denial is protective.
Long term, denial is worse than dysfunctional. We must accept that they are “deceased” in order to be able to “bury the body” (so to speak), because if we don’t do that, the corpse of our existence starts to stink and rot. If we accept the truth, we must ACT on information instead of perpetually remaining in denial.
I never saw my couple friends again. I knew that there wasn’t any use in trying to tell her that her husband had lied, that I had not made a pass at him. If I had told her the truth and she had believed it, she would have had to ACT on it, or continue to deny it. She did not want to ACT, so she therefore continued to DENY he lied, and put the “blame on me.”
I do understand, though, how that woman felt. I stayed in denial for many, many years, rather than accept the truth about my psychopathic son and his lack of repentance for his crimes, including murder. Accepting that truth after decades of denial was difficult, and at times I asked myself why I denied it. I think the answer is that at the time, I thought it was easier and less painful. Looking back, I know I wasn’t stupid, but I did make a choice that, “knowing what I know now,” I would not make again. There is no use in beating myself up for not knowing then.
I know now. I make decisions now on what I know now.