Husband has trouble trusting again after two affairs

Posted May 12, 2013, at 8:37 a.m.

Hi Carolyn: How do I start trusting my wife again? Three years ago, I caught her (52) having an affair with a 29-year-old aide who came to our house to help with our autistic son.

One of my first questions to her was, “What did I fail to give you?” We went the counseling route, and as the months passed I knew she would text or write him, but I dealt with these things as they came up. She was repentant and wanted to make it work — and I love her.

About a year and a half into counseling, I stumbled across another note, this time to a 21-year-old who worked with my son. She was having another affair. I left.

She begged me to come back and go back to counseling. I did. The therapist decided she was co-dependent and stopped couples’ counseling to work on her.

So here we are. We appear normal. She won’t talk about those days, as she wants to move on. Meanwhile, I have absolutely no trust. I find myself pulling away from her and this marriage I so want to save. She says she loves me, but she said that then, too. I’m not sure where to go from here. Is it just a matter of “time heals all wounds”? — G.

 

Time can’t heal anything unless the cause of the injury stops.

You cite two excellent reasons not to believe your wife will be faithful ever after: 1. She said and did the right things the first time you caught her — expressed remorse, joined you in counseling — and still she cheated again. 2. Now, she “won’t talk about those days.” Since she’s the one who betrayed you, the price she pays for that is to put up with your questions until you’re satisfied with the answers.* Dodging is a quick hop from denial, which is a quick hop from the next health aide’s bed.

(*This is not license for the betrayed to hound the betrayer indefinitely. If no answer will ever put the matter to rest, then it’s best for both for the relationship to end.)

It isn’t, of course, quite as simple as fidelity = problem solved. “What did I fail to give you?” is a natural question to ask and a heartbreaking one, but it oversimplifies. No relationship can satisfy every need. The best anyone can do is choose a partner well, recognize what needs that partner leaves unmet and find other ways to satisfy those needs that work within the boundaries of the relationship. No one but the couple gets to decide where those boundaries lie.

The answer to your first question about trust: You apparently can’t trust your wife not to cheat again; you can, though, trust her to be the person she has revealed herself to be. You can trust that she loves you, trust that she wants the marriage to continue and trust that she will indeed act against both of these interests when her competing needs (whatever they are) overpower her. Wishful thinking doesn’t serve either of you here.

Should the counseling bring her to a point where she can master these needs without bedding someone on the sly, I suspect you’ll see the change in her quite plainly. Her “I won’t talk about it” shame will give way to “I am an open book to you” peace.

As for your second question, where you go from here: That depends on your needs. Can you embrace the marriage you have with her as is, knowing it might mean absorbing another affair? Can you do that without hating her, or hating yourself?

If not, is there a measurable goal — since “trust” can’t be quantified — that you’d like her to reach through her therapy, and is there an amount of time you’re willing to wait for her to get there? Can you commit to this amount of time without emotionally pulling away, or is separation the only authentic path you have left?

These aren’t easy answers to come to, in part because your wife apparently won’t or can’t answer them for you by choosing transparency and choosing to serve the marriage instead of her impulses. The answers instead will have to be more about who you are and who you are (and aren’t) willing to be.

Dear Carolyn:

I have a longtime friend whom I once considered a “best friend.” We connect at the heart, and have relied on each other a lot over the years.

Several years back, she went through a tough professional transition and completely cut me off. Not because she was angry with me, but because she needed to move through it alone. I was devastated that she would not return my calls, respond to my emails, accept my invitations, etc. That went on for nearly two years. Ultimately we worked it out, and all was well for a few years.

Then she underwent another difficult professional transition, and again cut me off, again for nearly two years. I tried calling, texting and emailing for months and finally gave up.

I grieved the loss of our friendship, because I knew that if she came around again, I wouldn’t be willing to rekindle our closeness and set myself up for this again.

She has emerged from her difficult transition and now wants to reconnect. I love her dearly and I’ve missed her terribly, but I just don’t think I can do it again. Am I being unreasonable? Do I have to tell her this, or can I just keep her at arm’s length as a casual acquaintance?

— Confused

Demoting her to “casual acquaintance” without explaining yourself would just be a lesser version of the same friendship crime she committed against you.

So, yes, you do have to say you won’t get close again to someone who takes unannounced two-year breaks from returning your calls. Whether you’re being reasonable is beside the point (though you seem so to me); what matters is that you remain true to yourself and transparent with those you love — just as your ex-best friend unwittingly taught you to be.

Dear Carolyn:

A number of friends have announced they are expecting — yay! In talking to other friends who, like me, have offered (joyfully, really!) to throw a shower, we’re all having the same issue: We have been presented with a list of 50-plus “people I want you to invite.”

Fifty people (or even 35 who accept, let’s say) is bigger than practical for my house, and hosting at a park or other reasonable outdoor venue in D.C. in August would be ill-advised. It’s also more expensive than I anticipated when I made the offer. Yet it seems sorta petty to come back saying, “Actually, I was imagining more like 10-12 people.”

I also can’t help but think the less-close people on the list of 50 maybe would be OK not being invited to a shower. Is there a reasonable way to set boundaries at this point?

— Baby Shower Overload

Fifty? And this is common? Take to the shelters, they’re breeding.

It is not “petty” to say, “Er, I was thinking more like 12″ or “I’m sorry, my house can fit a dozen comfortably so maybe we can invite 20″ or “50! You’re funny.”

Since that moment has passed, circle back to it with, “I should have said this right away, but I felt bad: The shower I envisioned was about a quarter of the size you’re suggesting. Let me know if you’d still like me to host it.”

The burden here is on the grabby, not the grab-ee.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn. hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

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