Dear C and Dr. B:
I know now that trust is a really important thing, maybe THE most important thing. But I only learned that after losing the trust of everyone I know.
I cheated on my wife and what’s worse, the person I slept with was the wife of a member of our formerly close-knit social group. It was one of those things that seemed so “we’re just friends” at first, then little by little, the attraction grew. When the intimacy started, it felt right for us to fall together – we could both explain it to ourselves with crap like “I’m happier now, so things are more pleasant at home, we’re not hurting anyone…”
But of course, as always, the truth came out and everyone was hurt. Not only our spouses, but also our friends – we’d lied to them as well. Everyone felt betrayed.
The affair was over after that. It changed everything. We have two kids so my wife hasn’t left me yet and if there’s a way to save our family I want to. We’ve been going to therapy and talking a lot … but I don’t know if it helps with the feelings. Feelings seem to have a mind of their own – she just doesn’t trust me anymore. Every text, random phone call, me being late or “smelling funny” becomes grounds for anxiety and apprehension.
Our friends have cut me off, and as a consequence, avoid her too.
How do I fix something like this? Can I?
– Bart the Betrayer
Dr. B says:
Here’s the thing about feelings – part of being an adult is to never base behavior on feelings. Our culture seems to advertise just the opposite of this, but feelings are not always based on facts and if you let your feelings steer your life, it becomes a rollercoaster.
Your feelings got you into this mess; only INTENT can get you out. You and your wife need to have a rational, intent-based conversation. I ask patients: “What do you want your relationship and life to look like 20 years from now?” Working backwards from that, you should only make choices that lead to that outcome. You need to have the skills necessary to enact those behaviors that lead to your intended future outcome.
You do not have these skills at this point and likely neither does your wife. Without the right skills, you will never reach that 20-year outcome. Some of what you need to learn is consistent behavior, open and honest communication and equal and reciprocal division of tasks and power within the relationship. You also need to stop enabling each other in your respective weaknesses and rationalizing subconscious behaviors. And that’s just for starters.
There is no point in placing blame or punishing each other. You need to learn healthy adult play. Love has a zillion definitions and our culture is very limited in what we see as love. Sexual attraction counts for more than respect in our culture. You both have a lot to learn if you want to be able to have a long-term healthy relationship with another human. If you role model good relationship skills it will affect those around you in a positive and reciprocal way.
That is undoubtedly good, board-certified advice on how to rebuild a fucked-up marriage, but this is the real world and that is a very long, involved list which involves years of painful, uncomfortable work. That kind of change is HARD. If there’s not enough motivation, it doesn’t stand a chance.
I understand your motivation, Betrayer. You’re pissing your pants because you got caught and now everyone knows you’re the kind of guy who would betray his wife and stab his friends in the back. You’ve poisoned your own circle. You probably have no one to turn to but the therapist.
But what is your wife’s motivation, aside from the kids? Why should she want to jump through all those hoops? So she can have “healthy adult play” with the slimeball who made her feel like humiliated garbage?
Whatever problems there were in your marriage, your behavior was inexcusable. It showed poor character and bad decision making. You can role model good relationship skills all you want now, but you’re just following a script: “Look, honey! See how good I am?” Unfortunately, the question your wife will always be asking herself Is: “What is that bastard going to try to get away with when he thinks no one is looking?”
Everyone has their personal secrets, that’s only human. But if you are married, you don’t keep secrets with your mistress and lie to your spouse’s face. That’s a deal breaker.
You can stay together for the sake of the kids, and you might attain a stable home life over time. But if you ever expect anyone to trust you again, it might be easier to move to a new city.
– Cathren Housley
You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com