I cheated; now husband wants an open marriage. Is that fair?

Posted May 19, 2013, at 8:31 a.m.
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe

Dear Prudie,

A few months ago, my husband uncovered an affair I was having with an old flame. He moved out and initiated divorce proceedings, but in the time since, I was able to convince him that I am truly repentant and to give our marriage another chance for the sake of our children. The problem I have now is that he says that if we are to stay married, he wants it to be an open marriage.

I’ve tried to tell him that I’ve gotten that out of my system and I don’t want to be with anybody other than him, but he says there just isn’t any way he can ever trust me again, he doesn’t feel an obligation to be faithful to me anymore, and at least this way we’re being honest about it. Prudie, it makes me ill to think about him being with another woman. I just want things to go back to how they used to be. How can I convince him that we need to be completely committed to each other in order for this to work?

— Repentant Cheater

Dear Repentant,

I assume you were the little girl who wouldn’t let anyone else play with your toys, but you insisted on hogging everyone else’s. I agree that couples can have various understandings about fidelity, but the key is being in agreement. It’s perfectly understandable that the betrayed partner in a formerly monogamous relationship might want to step out him or herself. But this kind of score-settling is unlikely to heal the breach. But you have some nerve demanding that “things go back to how they used to be.”

You strayed and only found religion upon being discovered. It sounds as if without the affair being revealed you would have been perfectly happy with a seemingly placid marriage and a reignited flame on the side. Whatever happens, things will never be just as they used to be, and that is the first lesson you need to truly absorb. Especially when there are children involved, I don’t think the dissolution of a marriage should be the natural consequence of a single instance of infidelity. But you seem to want no consequences for your actions. It could be that you and your husband should simply be separated for a while — without the threat of divorce hanging over your heads — to see how each of you feel about this new status.

While you do that, I will naturally recommend couples counseling. It sounds as if you both need a third party to help you communicate and to hold a mirror up to the consequences of each of your actions.

— Prudie

 Dear Prudence,

My college graduation should be a joyous event, but for me it is foreboding. I find events of this sort to be embarrassing since the accomplishments of mine being lauded are so meager. I have celebrated birthdays, graduations, and other milestone parties by leaving in tears. I have tried counseling to little avail and have been like this for as long as I can remember, and believe it is simply a quirk of my personality. I have found it best, after making the minimum required appearance, to be by myself to work out my emotions away from the public eye.

I attended a low-ranking university lured by a full-ride in a bad economy. I have excelled there, but I have not been particularly challenged or self-motivated. I’ve decided to work for a year or two before considering graduate school. The job I had lined up fell through due to budget cuts and I haven’t yet found another one. I’m moving in with my parents while I look.

Without consulting me, my parents have invited my extended family and their friends to celebrate my graduation. I feel a great shame over how I have spent the past four years and do not feel I have thick-enough skin to explain my situation. This is compounded by the fact that my brother entered a highly competitive graduate program upon his graduation. I would rather spend the day reflecting. Am I being unreasonable to ask them to just let me do that?

- Bummed Graduate

Dear Graduate,

You graduated at the top of your university class and attended tuition-free because you were the kind of student they wanted to entice to their campus. Sure, I had to cut my way through a thicket of self-loathing to get to this story, but count me impressed. I am against labeling every human variation and quirk as pathological, but I wish I could make you see your accomplishments as others do. It could be that another therapist or even medication could help in this.

Tons of recent grads are returning to their childhood bedrooms, staring at their posters of the Backstreet Boys and wondering what’s ahead. But unlike most of them, your excellence means you don’t have to worry about chipping away at a massive pile of debt. No wonder your parents want to have a party! Sure, they should have checked with you, but the planning’s done, so please don’t make them cancel. By this time everyone knows you shrink away from being the center of attention and that sooner or later you’ll lose it, like House Speaker John Boehner.

So what? Milestone events are good occasions for tears, and if they fall, just explain to all that you’re overwhelmed by their good wishes. Once you’ve given everyone a hug, then you can sneak away intermittently to try to restore your equilibrium. I think you should check out the work of psychologist Elaine Aron, author of “The Highly Sensitive Person.” She has written about just the situation you describe: comparing yourself unfavorably to others and having that overwhelm you with tears. Read it and weep with relief.

— Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.

 

 

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