16 Oct 2018

We call other women sluts when we feel threatened, but who is really hurting us?

Women can over-react out of a fear of betrayal -- an interview with Katarzyna Miller, psychologist, psychotherapist and philosopher. 

Wysokie Obcasy
Katarzyna Pawłowska Wysokie Obcasy, Global
We call other women sluts when we feel threatened, but who is really hurting us? - NewsMavens
Hands, Pixabay

The following fragments from Katarzyna Pawłowska’s interview with the psychologist Katarzyna Miller first appeared in the Polish weekly “Wysokie Obcasy” in March 2018.

Katarzyna Pawłowska: Why is it so painful when our partner cheats?

Katarzyna Miller : Because it makes us feel belittled and neglected. We have all experienced deceit in our  life -- first from our parents and then our friends and colleagues. We’ve tasted it and we don’t want to experience it again -- that’s why, as adults, we desperately crave a loving partner who will never let us down.

KP: Love is supposed to heal our pain?

Confused and brainwashed by our patriarchal culture, we truly believe that love will take us to a place of eternal happiness.

Many women are convinced that a man will make them content -- look after them and protect them in joy and in sorrow.

When things turn out differently -- not only is he not looking after us but he prefers to take care of somebody else -- it breaks our heart.

It might seem like the worst thing that has ever happened to us but we forget that we’ve been there before. Many times.

KP: So we overdo it with the despair?

I will tell you the story of one of the couples I knew. He had a wife whom he loved very much, but somehow their everyday paths diverged. At the beginning of the union they traveled together around the world. He loved it, but at one point she said she'd had enough -- she preferred to take it easy and read books in her free time.

Then he began to travel alone. He quickly met a lady with whom he had a good connection. It soon turned out that they could talk together for hours and that the sex was great. But the wife eventually found out. First she was furious and threw him out of the house.

But after a while, when the first anger was over, she thought that probably was not the solution. She still loved him. So she reconnected with him and they enjoyed the most beautiful sex they had had in years. The lover sailed away, and the couple, though not immediately, came to terms with each other.

KP: Either she was very strong or her betrayal did not affect her too much -- I know women and men who suffer after a betrayal for years...

The severity of our pain depends on two factors. Firstly, our self-esteem -- if we feel comfortable with ourselves, the betrayal will hurt, but it probably won’t completely devastate our world. Secondly -- whether we treat our partner as our property.

KP: Meaning?

Are we both walking in the same direction or is each of us going the opposite way and stubbornly tries to pull the other one with them? Do we accept our partner and give them enough space? Do we enrich each other? Do we truly love or only want to be with someone, to possess them?

If it’s the second option, then not only will the betrayal be painful but we probably can barely handle situations where our partner goes out with his friends or when he chats to a strange woman at the party for too long.

KP: Subconsciously, many women dread that the “slut” who is talking to their husband for too long wants to take him away.

Just for the record, men have the same problem with treating their partners as their property, but at the moment, we’re talking about women.

Not many topics evoke as much rage and hatred as cheating. I do not know if you ever noticed a phenomenon that I call "the conspiracy of decent wives against whores"?

KP: I think about it sometimes when I hear that someone's wife had complained to another woman that she had danced too long with her husband... 

Exactly. And this is just a small example. Have you ever looked at the internet and read forums or blogs about lovers?  “Your babysitter is very attractive, aren’t you afraid to leave her alone with your husband?”, or “Watch out for your friend, she might be trying to steal your man” -- we’ve all heard these comments before.

What if you or I were that friend the other person was warning about? It’s very easy to be labelled a “husband-stealing slut”. It can happen to anyone, even someone who would never dream of reaching for somebody else’s partner.

The patriarchy goes unchecked when women indulge in reciprocal hostility. And we can be pretty malicious, especially when our relationship seems jeopardised by another woman.

 KP: I agree that it’s easy to be tagged a “slut”. But I also know that there are women out there who will wreck relationships.

It’s true. The actions of such a woman often stems from her childhood and a habitual need to get in between a husband and his wife, just as she used to come between her mother and father. Her parents were ill-suited and she always felt closer with her dad. He only strengthened her conviction and they both treated the mother as a mutual enemy, a stranger.

Or a daughter who never got on well with her mum but who had a lot to talk about with her dad. She might have made a successful career as an intellectual, but just like the woman in the first scenario, she gets into relationships with married men.

KP: Let’s say we’ve cheated on our partner. Should we confess to them?

In my opinion -- no. Very often, a fling with someone else makes us realise what’s missing from our relationship, suddenly we start to see how we’ve been neglecting ourselves and our partner.

Sometimes a betrayal helps get the relationship out of a slump.

If we don’t tell, it will be easier for us to recover and to put things back together.

KP: And what should we do if we find out that our partner has cheated on us? Pretend that nothing happened and wait for the pain to fade away?

Absolutely not. In that case we should definitely confront them. Make a scene! Don’t try to wait it out. Feelings start to disapate only after they’ve been recognized and verbalized. If we hold them back, they don’t disappear but quietly control us from the back seat.

People’s reaction to betrayal includes pain, anger, disappointment, and a desire for revenge -- to make their partner suffer more than they do.

KP: Does revenge help?

We certainly shouldn’t try to get even by sleeping with someone else -- it will only cause more pain. It’s always helpful to look at the situation from a broader perspective,  which is possible only after a certain amount of time, once we’ve let off steam.

But above all -- and I always stress that --  we should live. It will hurt for a while but eventually the pain will fade away.

KP: What if it doesn’t?

That would mean that somehow we are still nourishing our torment. But what’s the point? Since the dawn of time people have been hurting themselves and each other, and from the very beginning they’ve been learning to cope with sorrow. There are different methods: spiritual schools, healthy thinking groups, various philosophies (including the famous stoicism). Dealing with problems is an acquirable skill -- we need to learn it.

A whole school of life requires constant work on ourselves -- growing up, thinking, exploring, experimenting and taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions. Instead of drowning in our own sorrow, we should do things that make us happy. Once we’ve started enjoying our life, we will realize that the hurtful situations we encounter are not our failures but rather the antithesis of the fortunate incidents. They might make our existence slightly imperfect, but they also make it much more diverse and interesting.

And let’s not forget that the most precious is the life we feel and experience thoroughly. Without a bit of suffering we wouldn’t be able to feel it at all.


Katarzyna Miller - psychologist, psychotherapist, philosopher. Author and co-author of numerous bestsellers, including her latest publication "Women: A User's Manual”.

Translated from Polish by Martyna Kardach


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