Dr. Shirley Glass
Healing and Recovery
Struggling to discuss wife's past infidelity
Dear Dr. Glass,
18 months ago, I discovered that my wife had at least one affair 25 years ago. Although she ended things before our two children were born, I'm experiencing the trauma that occurs after the revelation of infidelity that you describe in your Reflections article, The Trauma of Infidelity. I've read a lot, gained some understanding, and am trying to remain optimistic. Her secret is finally out, and I want her to understand that I love her and am still as committed as ever. However, when I try to talk to her she gets defensive and angry. She accuses me of coercing her and says she will not "play my game" - as she characterizes my attempts at healing. It's recent to me, though so long ago to her. I'm frightened for us! It seemed, for a while, that things would be better than ever. What do I do now, after 18 months of struggling?
Dear Struggling Partner,
I suppose you want to know the story of her affair, and she is reluctant to disclose any further information with you. If she says you are coercing her, then perhaps you are acting like an inquisitor. You have not said how you found out about her affair, so I don't know whether she has shared any information with you voluntarily or not. Whenever she shares a detail, tell her how much it helps your healing. Perhaps you could write your questions down for her. Suggest that she choose a time when she feels comfortable talking to you, and let her go through the list and select which questions she is prepared to answer. If you get upset by what she tells you because she is revealing previous lies, you will be teaching her that it is better to keep her mouth shut.
It is possible that this process can only be constructive if it takes place in a therapist's office. However, be careful about choosing a therapist, because unfortunately there are many therapists who do not believe in opening the window into an affair. A year and a half of struggling alone is too long. The longer this destructive process goes on, the greater is the damage to your marriage. If she refuses to go to counseling or talk about it, then go by yourself and see if you can get over this. If she can empathize with your pain and ask you to forgive her, you might be able to heal without the whole story.
What does it mean to stop the affair?
Dear Dr. Glass,
I need to know if I'm wrong for asking my husband to give up the friendship with someone he has had a recent affair with? I can't try to fix my marriage knowing that she's still in his life, even though they are not sexual anymore. He downright refuses to let her go. He tells me I don't understand their relationship, yet he can't explain it. I feel I'm second to her. Is it possible to rebuild my marriage like this? If so, how do I get past those feelings? He also defends her as well.
Dear Seeking Safety,
After the disclosure of infidelity, the only way that healing and recovery can occur is if the unfaithful partner stops all contact with the affair partner. You are not wrong in your request. Until safety is established, the trauma reactions will continue. Your husband's loyalty appears to be toward her rather than toward you.
You cannot fix your marriage by yourself. He is trying to call all the shots and is showing very little compassion for your pain. Rebuilding your marriage in this troubled situation is like trying to construct a building on quicksand. It might look all right on the surface, but the foundation is insecure and the whole structure could collapse at any moment. You could use some help to figure out what you want to do about your marriage. It sounds like you and your husband could benefit from improved communication, so couples therapy could provide a safe place to resolve these issues.
Searching for the meaning of his affair
Dear Dr. Glass,
After 19 years of marriage, my husband cheated on me with a coworker. He left her after 3 months and after I had discovered the affair. We have now recommitted to our marriage. He said he learned a lot about himself, is remorseful, will never cheat again and that he knows he loves me more than ever. What could he have learned that he didn't know before the affair?
Your husband is the best one to ask what he learned that he didn't know before the affair. It is important to have a full discussion with him about the meaning of the affair so you can understand the vulnerabilities in your marriage and in his emotional life that set the stage for an affair. His statement that he is remorseful and loves you more than ever suggests that he realized what it would have meant to lose you. He may appreciate you more than ever for standing by him. Moreover, he had the option of leaving you for another woman, so his choosing to stay in the marriage is not simply a case of inertia but a carefully considered decision.
I have known many couples whose marriage was stronger and more intimate after healing from the crisis of an infidelity. Some couples affirm their recommitment by renewing their vows or taking a second honeymoon or buying new rings. Every marriage is comprised of many different marriages as things change and develop through the years. Your marriage has taken on a new life, so you can take advantage of the opportunity of renewing your commitment to each other and learning from the past.
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