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Emotional Truths Revealed in Showtime’s The Affair

The Affair, Showtime, Relationshops, Divorce,Marriage,Affair

 

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After almost 40 years of working to help couples, I offer a podcast of substance on what relationships require to last for the long haul. I use books & movies to illustrate the points I’m trying to make. I offer challenges of things you can actually do in your own relationship at the end of every podcast which is under 10 minutes.

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Season 1 was interesting because it was a story of an affair with a happily married man, which is not often the case in my experience. Season 2 is so extraordinarily rich with emotional truths about the delicate & complicated dance of connections & disconnections in relationships. It covers the profound impact of grief when a child dies & a marriage ends; it covers love steeped in childhood patterns, what it means to be in a relationship with narcissistic men, the damage to self that occurs in people pleasing & the ugly price children pay when their parents are fighting.

The scene I’m about to describe was so powerful, I hit rewind immediately. Alison is the mistress & she is walking with a new friend, an older man & she tells him about her son who died. He is deeply respectful “It’s the worst thing in the world, kid. You carry that with you…” She goes onto describe that she wants Noah (the husband divorcing his wife for her) to understand but he can’t.

Her new friend offers this wisdom “ I made that mistake with my first wife. I wanted her to understand everything about me. & when she didn’t then she failed me somehow & it wasn’t true love.” Then he goes on to describe our essential aloneness. He says “ Being alive is essentially a very lonely proposition. You have to mostly carry your back pack alone. Nobody gets as much help as they need. But in marriage things get a little less lonely- it makes a big difference.”

THERE IS SO much packed into those 7 sentences. We fall in love & have the crazy expectation that we will understand everything about each other if we are truly loved. Much of our suffering in relationships is connected to our illusions about love. Which is why the Disney version of fairytales about love so troubles me. When my daughter was young I redid Cinderella & had her walk to the ball, carrying her own shoes so she had her own power without the fairy godmother.

Reducing expectations to be more reasonable is one key to success in relationships. We are alone & no one else will ever fully understand us, our job is to understand ourselves & each other as best we can. One of the reasons we therapists are good at understanding during the 45 minute session is that it’s entirely about the other person. That’s why we get paid, it’s not about both people. A real relationship is about two people which makes it much more complicated.

We are alone with many of the important things in life. Growing up is to accept that hard truth.

Another Episode opens with a sex scene….the dumped wife Helen & her new BF. She looks completely bored & disconnected. He starts exclaiming with every thrust something like OMG This /is /the /best / sex / I/ have/ ever /had. He has no clue how disinterested she is & that she does not orgasm. He is completely oblivious to her needs, clearly he is also very narcissistic.

As they are dressing it is very ironic that he tells her she is too nice. “That’s your problem you are too nice.” he announces with authority when she describes doing something she does not want to do for her mother. Then we shift to another scene when she & her husband are leaving divorce mediation & she says “Why didn’t I realize what a narcissist you are?” We smile internally recognizing she is indeed not learning from her past & she is repeating the same mistake once again.

It is all too ordinary to go from the frying pan to the fire when leaping into a new relationship to heal the wounds of divorce is in general repeating the same mistake, because the grieving process is ignored & all you want is comfort instead of feeling rejected & unwanted. It is far more uncomfortable to be alone but it does lead to better choices if you endure the breakup under your own steam. Too often people repeat their patterns of choosing someone who seems different, but isn’t this is another harsh emotional truth.

Do people repeat the unfinished business of childhood when they fall in love is that another emotional truth? It often is. Helen is unfortunate that both her mother & father seem narcisstic.
Helen may very well be setting herself up unconsciously by repeating an unfinished problem with her parents.

Another emotional truth is that Helen has a part in her own problems & watching her closely, you can see her responsibility. She is the “too good” girl who has a tough time being authentic about who she is & identifying what she really wants. She is people-pleasing to the extreme & therefore she is silent. She doesn’t tell the new BF she doesn’t want to be sexual. We in the audience watch her resentments pile up.

In another scene her BF arrives with flowers & an airline ticket present. She finally dares to tell the truth because she feels backed into a corner, that she wants too slow down because it is all too much. Since he feels this as a narcissistic wound of rejection he blames her, redicules her & storms out. So she ends up feeling even worse about speaking her very reasonable truth. He is narcissistic & unable to see their situation from her perspective. It never even occurs to him she might be grieving the loss of the marriage.

Let’s continue with the harsh emotional truth of narcissism in intimate relationships. Noah’s sister confronts him in an honest conversation, that clearly suggests Noah needs to be a better person in the world. Noah is telling her about Helen having a meltdown might help him get full custody, he is almost gleeful. She is forthright about kids needing 2 parents. The sister has always found “perfect” Helen to be annoying but she is clear Helen deserves shared custody.

What is Noah’s defensive response, he storms off dragging the kids away from the warmth of their Aunt & Uncle’s home to stay in a cheap hotel.His reality was that the sister delivered a wound to his narcissistic sense of self. He runs away from the truth instead of facing it. Growing up is honestly facing painful situations. He avoids the opportunity to grow & learn. I was really disgusted that he couldn’t recognize the truth even for his kids benefit, if not for his own. If he was in therapy I would have said the same thing his sister said, because he needs a reality check that it is best for the kids to have two parents.

So my challenge for you today:

1. Ask yourself if you expect your partner to understand everything about you. If you do can you rein in your expectations? Accept that you will be alone with many of the things that are important to you.

2. Are you too nice like Helen? or Too selfish like Noah? Usually we tilt in one direction or the other. Helen needs to define her wants more clearly & Noah needs to see whats important for his kids, not just focus on his opportunity to “win” We all require a balance of both energies.

3. What emotional truths have you been avoiding in your own life? What painful truth do you need to pay attention to in order to grow up?

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