RelationshipFilter: She had an affair. I caught her. We're working it out. This sucks. I need help.
May 4, 2009 8:45 PM   Subscribe

RelationshipFilter: She had an affair. I caught her. We're working it out. This sucks. I need help. Very Long Post of Drama.

It's unfortunate that (1) this kind of question gets asked all the time and (2) these situations all feel so unique to the participants, because I concede there's a certain amount of sameness that can get fatiguing. That being said, I appreciate in advance those of you interested in not only reading my story, but offering such wisdom as you might wish.

Here are the facts, as close as I can relay them and protect anonymity:

We'll call my wife Liz, and my name might be Ryan. We've been married for 13 years. We're in our middle 30s and have 3 kids, between 4 and 10. Generally, we're happy.

6 months ago, her high school boyfriend, let's say he's Jeff, her first true love, pinged her on FaceBook to reconnect. It's been almost 2 decades since we all graduated, we're adults, etc., so I pushed aside my unease and didn't object to the communication. (I know, I know, hindsight is 20/20, but I didn't want to be The Jealous Husband. I still don't.) Over the course of the winter, the length of their online chats got longer, but there was never a hint that there was anything more going on. In February, Liz took the kids and went to visit her parents in their hometown (3 hours from here); I didn't join them because I had to work my second job. During the course of that visit Liz had a friendly lunch with Jeff, at IHOP, with all three kids in tow. I asked her about it later and she said it was a little weird, but pleasant. "He's not really comfortable around kids, so he was a little awkward, but it was nice to see him again."

Liz has had lingering doubts about why the relationship ended all those years ago; Jeff went away for military service shortly out of high school, met someone else, and bailed out on Liz without notice. She had spent the recent months asking questions about the whys and whats, and learning more and more that the end of the relationship wasn't her fault, that he chickened out and succumbed to temptation. Jeff has had a tough go of it, struggling with depression and addiction. He flunked out of the military because he was bipolar, and he's on a chemical soup of medications. That being said, Liz was really happy to have reconnected and become friends again. She really valued Jeff's friendship and was glad to put old ghosts and self-doubt to rest.

I work 2 jobs to make ends meet. Our kids are in private school that we can't afford. During the day, I work in business to business sales which hasn't been going very well with the economy in the tank, so at night I deliver pizza. I've been working an average of 12-14 hours a day during the week, and 6-10 hours on weekend nights. So, while I'm out and about delivering pizza, Liz has had ample opportunity to spend time online with Jeff.

Here's where it gets sticky.

I've never trusted his intentions. I've never been comfortable with the way he treated Liz all those years ago, even though I didn't meet her until well into college. I was concerned that they were spending so much time online together, so I activated the logging capability in her IM client, and from time to time I would peruse the chat histories to see what was up. Totally innocuous; he's a baseball fan, so they'd talk about that, or what friends from high school they were in touch with, or what the kids were doing, how his new job is going, what does he think of that cute girl at the mall, whatever. I felt guilty as hell the entire time, spying on my wife. But I couldn't shake it, couldn't stay away. Then, she went back to her parents' with the kids for Easter weekend (again, I had to work) and when she got back, all of the chat histories were deleted, and the log function had been disabled. Alarm bells started going off; what did she have to hide?

That was the weekend of April 12th. I kept my cool as long as I could, then on the 18th I downloaded and installed logKext to capture keystrokes. All I got was her side of the conversation, and I also got all of the [del][del][del] typos, and the [up][up][down][left][left][left] etc. of my oldest child playing games, but I was able to decipher the gibberish and ...


Not a sniff of suspicion from her that she was being monitored, not a sniff of inappropriate behavior, at least for a day or two.

Then on Thursday April 23rd, Liz asked Jeff if he thought she should record and post online masturbation pornography. I couldn't see his response, but I flipped out a little - that definitely crossed a big fat comfort line. I still didn't feel strongly enough about it to tip my hand that I had been spying on her. I still felt like my sin was worse.

On Friday, April 24th, I called home around 10:00 PM to say "hello" while I'm on a pizza run and Liz sounded distracted. Not unpleasant, just not really present. I immediately suspected she was online with Jeff. I chose not to say anything and let her go, but I had a hard time waiting for her to go to sleep before I checked the log. There, in blinding black and white:

"By the way, it occurred to me that I probably shouldn't give you head."

and then, later on:

"so I was thinking perhaps an inexpensive nightly place rather than seedy hourly"
[Jeff's response, invisible to me]
"ok good"
[Jeff's response, invisible to me]
"sounds good"
[Jeff's response, invisible to me]
"perhaps by then I'll have money to pitch in"

and finally, the kicker:

"do you think about what we'll do when we are alone together?"

And my heart caved in, and my world started to collapse. This wasn't fantasizing, or cyber sex, this was concrete plans and preparation. It was 2 o'clock in the morning, and I was so full of adrenaline that sleep was impossible. So I keep going back and reading the log over and over, trying to glean additional detail.

I decided I really wanted to see his side. I wanted to get the whole picture, I was scheduled to work the following night, and I knew that while I was gone and the kids were asleep they would be online together so I went to the trouble of downloading a more sophisticated system monitor, that would capture full chat logs, website URLs, and screen shots invisibly. I got it all set up, tested, erased my tracks, tried to sleep, nothing.

By 8 AM I'd given up, and just waited. I was going to keep my cool, I wasn't going to let on that anything was amiss. At 10:00 AM when Liz woke up and smiled at me, I lost it. I've never been so angry and so terrified at the same time. I fought through about 40 pounds of adrenaline slamming through me and opened the conversation by apologizing in advance for spying on her, then confronting her with what I'd found.

Liz: "You're right. We've been planning to get together and have sex."


We have spent the last 10 days in intense conversation.

I have learned that she first proposed a sexual encounter the Saturday night in February after they met for lunch. If an opportunity had presented itself (some way for her to get her parents to take care of the kids without giving herself away) she would have gone through with it.

I have learned that she never intended to leave me, that it would have been an ego boost for her and a sympathy fuck for him. That she knew if I ever found out it would kill me. That she thought she could get away with it and live with the aftermath, whatever it would be.

I have learned that I underestimated her capacity for deceit, as she underestimated mine. She was selectively deleting incriminating chat logs, leaving the innocuous details for me to observe. She never thought I'd go so far as to install a keystroke logger.

Even so, I love her very much, and we want to stay married.

We've been learning a lot about ourselves and each other. We've grown (unimaginable as it might seem) closer together. She has cut off all contact with Jeff, at my request. They never had an opportunity to consummate the relationship, so at the very least she has been sexually faithful if not emotionally. I'll say again, we want very much to stay married. We've engaged our marriage counsellor for assistance with the crisis, and she recommended an excellent book called "After the Affair," Amazon link here if you'd like to learn more or think you might need a copy.

One of the chapters is about rebuilding trust, and the author describes "low-cost behaviors" and "high-cost behaviors," things that the couple needs to define for themselves that would help to rebuild trust. Low-cost behaviors might be something like "call me to let me know where you are several times a day" or "tell me frequently how much you love me." High-cost behaviors might be more like "Fire your secretary, sell the house, and move with me to another city."

Interestingly, the book describes low-cost behaviors as a mutual effort, but the high-cost behaviors are the responsibility of the unfaithful partner alone. They are the sacrificial, expensive gestures to demonstrate the relationship is worth investing in and saving.

So, I'd like some ideas about what might be considered high-cost behaviors.

Advice to DTMFA will be politely ignored. We want to stay married.

Advice to seek counseling will ... well, we're already in counseling, and will also be seeing therapists individually to work on our own issues.

Otherwise, the floor is open. I set up this sock puppet account so that if you have questions, we can entertain a dialogue, and so I can come back in the months ahead with updates as events warrant. If you're not comfortable posting here, you can use

Thanks in advance, everyone.
posted by Sock!Puppet! to Human Relations (90 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
So, I'd like some ideas about what might be considered high-cost behaviors.

Do I have this right? You're asking for some ideas of what your wife can do that are "high cost" in order to demonstrate that she's...sacrificing something? willing to reassure you?

It's confusing - after all that detail and setup, is that what you're asking? For something she would do to...what, show you she wouldn't cheat again? Or are the high cost behaviors something you're supposed to do - because of your spying on her and withholding your suspicions for so long?

I'm sorry, is there any way to clarify what you're looking for?
posted by Miko at 8:56 PM on May 4, 2009

I don't have any advice or suggestions for you, and I don't want to derail this question by making it about the keylogger, however I just wanted to tell you that I think your use of a keylogger was completely justified. You had an instinct something was wrong, and you proved it; don't let anyone make you feel bad about having done that.

You may need some high-cost behaviors of your own.

No. The onus of high-cost behaviors is on her and only her.
posted by Simon Barclay at 9:09 PM on May 4, 2009 [28 favorites]

I think the high-cost behavior you ask of her is, cut off all contact with Jeff.

I think the high-cost behavior that would be fair of her to ask of you is, explain exactly what to look for in computer-spying downloads, so that she can verify that you are not spying on her.

Seconding the idea that you should put the kids in schools you can afford (public schools) so you can save your marriage by spending more time with your wife, talking with her and getting the spark back in that relationship, and less time delivering pizzas and worrying about the bills and how she's spending her evenings.
posted by Houstonian at 9:14 PM on May 4, 2009 [22 favorites]

Why don't you leave it to her to come up with a way to prove the relationship is worth saving? If she's indifferent, there's hardly any point. I fail to see what trying to exact a "sacrificial and expensive" punishment is going to do to make you feel better or improve the relationship. Why do you want someone you love to suffer? Why don't you just be the bigger man, accept her apology, and move on? Treating her like a naughty child accomplishes nothing.

"call me to let me know where you are several times a day"

This is really, really bad advice. Just because someone cheated on you doesn't automatically grant you the license to be a controlling jerk.
posted by aquafortis at 9:18 PM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

(And, I noticed that you said the high-cost behavior was the responsibility of the unfaithful person. In my mind, that's both of you: She was lying to you, you were lying to her, and both of you were putting the lie ahead of the marriage. To my mind, it matters little what the "crime" was, both of you behaved in a way that shatters a marriage. You could say, "Yes, but my suspicions were right!" True. And she could say, "But we only talked about it; we never did it!" Also true. Both of you have reasons to distrust the other from now on.)
posted by Houstonian at 9:21 PM on May 4, 2009

It sounds like you're still VERY emotional about this. All of your post or at least a good 90% of it could have been summed up by simply telling us that your wife has been having an emotional affair with her high school ex. It's not that you're not verbose, it's that you're obsessing over her relationship with this other man... you're calculating it all down to the very minute when she is saying this or that to this guy. It's not healthy or helpful.

Yes. You need to stay with your wife. But there are two very important things you need to do:

First you need to figure out why it is that your wife felt it would be acceptable to go off and fuck this other guy. What is lacking in your relationship that would cause her to embrace this distractions. It may be that there is something completely untenable, an insurmountable roadblock that neither of you can get past. Relationships unravel like this all the time, especially this far into it. You need to put aside your internal emotional self-preservation and really objectively figure out if there is something worth saving here or not.

Second, until you figure out the first point, you will need to set boundaries with your wife. If she is serious about staying with you (and I'm not convinced that she is) then you need to set realistic boundaries for what is acceptable or not. For her that means she renounces all contact with this man, she's gets off facebook, gets off the computer in general... she needs to give up that needy on-line relationship in exchange for restoring some measure of faith with you.

Lastly, I think you're going to have to work the hardest to get over this. Yes, your wife will have to work hard to restore faith in the relationship, but you obviously have jealousy and control issues (not unwarranted as it turns out) that need addressing. Neither you, nor your wife, will ever be happy if you feel that you have to keep constant vigilance over her. In many ways jealous is as bad as actual cheating, sometimes its worse.
posted by wfrgms at 9:25 PM on May 4, 2009 [10 favorites]

Mod note: a few comments removed - it's a sticky question with a lot of parts and it would be great if people could to stay either on topic or non-GRAR/snarky or preferably both, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:43 PM on May 4, 2009

Forgive me for sounding so blunt, but --

Why are you asking US for ideas about "high-cost behavior"? YOU are the one she betrayed, not ME. What MY ideas are about high cost behavior aren't relevant, because I'm not the one who's married to her, and I'm not the one who feels betrayed right now.

I hate to say it, but this is one of those questions to which only you can come up with the answer. Any answer I'd contribute would be based on me and my own experiences with relationships, trust, and fidelity, experiences are not yours, so there's no guarantee that what would work for me would make any sense for you whatsoever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:44 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

her high cost action: opens up email/phone record to you. She tells you about any interaction with males.

yours: What houstonian said - you show her how to see if you are spying on her, or you give her new laptop with own secret password so you can't spy on her and she's free to communicate with anyone she wants.

Is would be interesting to ask her what she thinks her high cost action to you should be. It would be interesting for you to share with her what you think yours should be to her.
posted by anitanita at 9:45 PM on May 4, 2009

She was completely and utterly wrong and I think you were justified in doing what you did. You didn't start out monitoring everything--you saw it was going too far and needed proof for yourself. That's understandable. I hope you can see in hindsight that it would have been healthier to just confront her right when you began to have doubts instead of spying on her, and I hope that now you two will work on healthier communication between you, but you have a right to be bitter about how all this played out.

I'm glad you are going to counseling. I can understand your anger and hurt and bitterness. I hope that writing it all out here as you have was cathartic. I am concerned that, however justified your feelings, you are obsessing now and looking for us to feed that obsession.

*Positive* steps to take would be your wife getting a job so that you don't have to work two of them, spending more time together, and taking the kids out of that private school you can't afford. Also, it should go without saying, but if she is still in contact with Jeff then of course that has to stop completely. That's putting your marriage first. To me, all of these steps are a good way forward, while constant calls to check-in would not be--I agree that there is a point where the focus becomes micro-managing and controlling rather than working things out.

But really this is a conversation you should have together, not with us.
posted by misha at 9:49 PM on May 4, 2009 [10 favorites]

I think the idea of giving her her own password-protected laptop is the better. If the idea is that your action has to leave you vulnerable and express total trust in her, then that covers it.

If you had used a keylogger on me, and then offered to show me how to detect one, I would trust that about as far as a Nigerian email. Let her have total control; that's the only way you can practice the trust.

But, as the Empress said, I'm not your wife. You need to think about and discuss things that make sense in your own marriage.

It's hard not to make more observations about this situation and marriage. But even though your post is really long, the question is pretty specific: suggest high-cost behaviors. You didn't ask if she's likely to leave you, whether you should leave, etc.

It seems like this is a really recent discovery - 10 days? Did your counselor suggest choosing a high cost behavior right now? How many times have you seen the counselor? What was your 'homework' last time - was it this? Or are you reading ahead? I ask because you're still very angry and wounded and I bet so is she, and in shock as well at the sudden turn her plans have taken. Depending on what the counselor says, it might not be time to be at the 'rebuild trust' stage yet. You might still be looking at the 'my God, what have I done' stage.
posted by Miko at 9:53 PM on May 4, 2009

Response by poster: You know, I'm always amazed at how heartfelt the answers are on the relationship posts, even the answers I don't like very much. Thank you all so far, and all who follow, for your time and energy.


1 - We both want to stay married. We had already had several (~6 or 7) "how to make a good thing better" marriage counseling sessions, so we had a prior relationship with our counselor before this broke open. Please ignore the implications of Liz's affair during the course of these visits, that's outside the scope of my question.

2 - I still feel guilty for spying. I hate that part of myself, and those of you who said I should have come out and been up front in the beginning may be right. We'll be addressing that in therapy.

3 - We have a session tomorrow (and will continue on a weekly basis, both as a couple and individually with other therapists) which will be our second since this broke, and our first opportunity to discuss high-cost / low-cost behaviors and balance. Remember that the concept of high- and low-cost behaviors originates in a book that our therapist gave to us.

4 - I have invited Liz to read all of this, and she and I have spent hours and hours and hours in deep, heartfelt conversation.

Miko, you're right; it's only been 10 days, and we're both still reeling. That was very astute.

I'm still interested in other peoples' experience and ideas; for instance, providing Liz with her own laptop instead of sharing one with me is *very* interesting.
posted by Sock!Puppet! at 10:04 PM on May 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

2 - I still feel guilty for spying. I hate that part of myself, and those of you who said I should have come out and been up front in the beginning may be right. We'll be addressing that in therapy.

Most definitely. The thing about marriage/relationship problems is how rarely they are purely one-sided. Of course you never really meant ill, but something went wrong at a few points well before the discovery you made. One of those points was her reconnecting with Jeff and opening the door to this. One of those points was whatever makes her feel she needs an "ego boost." One of those points was when you made your financial decisions as a couple. One of those points was when she started flirting online with this guy. One of those points was when you started suspecting she was hiding something from you, and rather than saying "I get a feeling you're hiding something from me," you instead kept your thoughts to yourself and installed software to track her behavior when you weren't there.

All of these points reveal a fissure, problem, or personal issue that needs clearing up. It's not so much about blame, but don't let anyone tell you you were totally in the right for making the decision not to talk to your wife before sneaking around for information. Nor should you let anyone say your wife was in the right to seek an outlet from a marriage in which you had grown distant. Or whatever. The thing is, at a number of points you weren't working together as a couple and made independent and collaborative decisions that have resulted in this situation. You both have responsibility and you both have work to do.

I would give yourself some time before talking about how to make reparations. There's much to examine. I'm glad you intend to stay married and wish you the best of luck figuring it all out. Good people reacting to weird stuff can make messed up choices. We can all figure things out and do better.
posted by Miko at 10:13 PM on May 4, 2009 [10 favorites]

You know what stands out to me reading this? You're never home and she's desperately lonely to the point where she's pondering boinking some bipolar ex off the Internet. You're home long enough to sleep and drop off the money, apparently. This does NOT strike me as being good for your marriage at all, and indeed, that probably contributed to the problem.

Asking, "Hey, what's a good way to really punish her?" here sounds kind of bad to me. You don't need to demand that she move away from the guy she cheated with because (as far as I can tell) they don't live in the same town, work together, anything like that. And the reason that's a high-cost is because that's some heavy steps to take that person away from temptation. I can't think of any "high cost" things she could do that she hasn't already done (i.e. cut off Jeff) that are reasonable to ask. Unless you forbid her off the Internet for life, but I don't think that's fair.

Anyway, what really stands out there is that you aren't there. You're scrambling to make ends meet to keep your kids in a private school that you say you can't afford. Now, I don't know your kids' situation (i.e. you live in Ghettoville and private school is the only way your kids won't get shot), but the first thing that comes to mind here to me is that well, YOU need to do a high-cost if you want to save the marriage, and that high cost is that you need to find a way to be home with your wife and family more often. If that means you quit one of your jobs, if the kids have to leave private school to go to public next school year, if you have to move to a safer town where the kids can go to public school without being shot...but you need to stop constantly scrambling for money and be there for your wife. Even beyond this affair thing you are working burnout hours and it sounds like you're due for a collapse if this keeps up.

Sorry that this wasn't what you wanted to hear.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:16 PM on May 4, 2009 [53 favorites]

If your conviction is to stay together—or at least to stay married—then perhaps the highest cost would be to physically live apart? Have you considered taking a break from each other?

I know you're married, and with children, but if you're looking for impactful steps your wife could take, then moving out for a month or two might suffice.
posted by trotter at 10:22 PM on May 4, 2009

I'm going to say she writes down and reads aloud to you everyday until you don't want to hear it, a report of everyone she communicated with that day. That will remind her of what's at stake and you not too snoop.

(BTW) your askme was so well written I thought it was a viral ad for After the Affair.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:28 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Woops, one more clarification and I'll stop:

5 - The high-cost behavior examples that I listed were not suggestions specific to this relationship, they were drawn more or less intact from examples in the book. I apologize for not making that clear from the outset.
posted by Sock!Puppet! at 10:39 PM on May 4, 2009

I'd consider looking for a counsellor who is doing more than teaching the textbook. While the basic principle is sound -- restoring trust requires asymmetrical sacrifices -- I'm not sure whether that kind of mechanical stuff does the job.

She's been chasing the one that got away, and there are clearly reasons (though not justification) for that; you're dealing with the fact that you're working your rear off to keep your family above water, and that apparently just creates space for her to indulge in potentially adulterous nostalgia. Oh, and there's the whole control thing.

I'm no counsellor, but that sounds as neither of you are comfortable in the here and now, and what your therapy ought to be addressing is the steps you can take to deal with that.

You brought up the school thing, so let's assume it got mentioned because it's an issue that's on your mind, and a contentious one. Who made that decision? What's the backstory there? When it comes down to brass tacks, is it better for the kids to be at private school with divorced parents, or at public school with the two of you together, and spending time together? Is your life being lived around a particular template -- one defined by yourselves together, one you just fell into, or by one of you, or by the people you live around -- and is that causing tensions?

See, if it's a situation where you're working two jobs to keep your kids in private school and to maintain a particular lifestyle that has been defined, implicitly or explicitly, by your wife, then that's got to change, and I suppose it counts as a high-whatsit behaviour to say "we're going to live differently". If it's a situation where you've set the template, you need to think about scaling down and creating the space for her to talk to you, which could also count as a high-thingy. If it's one where you're living to the expectations of others, then there's nothing stopping you from changing that.
posted by holgate at 10:48 PM on May 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

There's a big disconnect, I think, between the type of suggestions the book offers (or what I read into them) and the type of suggestions that have been suggested for you.

If your partner had been working in an office and sleeping with her secretary, then it would make perfect sense for her to quit her job to no longer be in contact with the secretary. It would be a re-affirmation of her commitment to you to be doing so--obviously and unquestionably casting off the "other man" to be with you. It'd make sense to move to a new city, where you would each rely on each other in an otherwise foreign location--start anew, together.

But... What can she do that's similar, given the details you've provided for us? Of course she'll stop talking to this guy. But... What more? Stop being on the computer, at all? But it's not like the computer itself was responsible for her behavior; it was just an available tool. Allow you regularly to read her e-mails? But that isn't some action on her part to let you know she is earnest. Instead, it would be an action on your part to keep her honest, and that is a recipe for disaster. Looking at the issue for this type of point of view will not give trust-building behavior. Instead, it will only offer sacrifices that come off as punishment.

You shouldn't be looking for any sort of "high-cost behavior" that'll just, gee, really suck. IT shouldn't be something that involves one of you exerting control over the other. What you both should be looking for are some sort of important change that can be made that, by its very nature, re-affirms your love for each other.

Now... What, exactly, may that be? That's what you want us to tell you. But we certainly don't know. You haven't given us the type of information we would need to know. I agree with Miko that you sound like you are still completely reeling from this whole terrible ordeal. I don't really think, at this particular moment, you're in a place where you can think more about re-building, as a team, and less about reparations.

I guess in part I think you should re-read After the Affair. There has GOT to be more to their advice about "high-cost behaviors" other than just three bare-bone examples that in no way express the purpose of adopting those behaviors. There must be some explanation for why such a behavior should be adopted and what it is supposed to signify, and you will need to understand that explanation before you can move forward with this plan.
posted by Ms. Saint at 10:54 PM on May 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nthing everyone saying move your kids to public school. As someone who went to both private and public school I can tell you it's possible to learn well or poorly at either. Unless there's a pressing reason, take them out. Just figure out a way to do it at a convenient time so that the kids can get a new social network started up.

You don't mention where she works. Unless there's a child that needs full-time attention, perhaps she can take half of the extra hours instead, so that you can spend more time together. It doesn't have to be delivering pizza.

I think the lesson here for everybody is there is a pretty hard limit as to how much time your partner can spend (online or otherwise) with an old fling. Personally I think it's actually *better* if they've been in contact over the years rather than reconnecting after a long time.

She had spent the recent months asking questions about the whys and whats, and learning more and more that the end of the relationship wasn't her fault, that he chickened out and succumbed to temptation.

The fact that there was a mild obsession concerning reasons for the initial breakup was probably the biggest factor. It sounds to me like it was this fascination that led to the thoughts of affair rather than any loss of interest in or love for you or real lasting attraction to Jeff. Not sure if it helps any, but I feel like there must be some small consolation in thinking that she was more interested in the mystery or the "what if" than in breaking your heart. I can't say for certain, but I wouldn't be surprised if, having gone through with the affair, her interest in Jeff were instantly quenched, not just by remorse but by sudden disinterest.

I have to say the one thing that I'm getting from the way you're describing the situation, and it might simply be that you're trying to keep your emotions in check, is that you're being very intellectual about this. Even the apparent main thrust of the question -- what "high cost behaviors" she will have to engage in -- seems more focused on this externally determined process from a book rather than your own feelings.

I invite you to really consider, in your personal therapy, to tap into and let out any strong feelings you might have -- rage, fear, resentment, etc. Holding back "40 pounds of adrenaline" isn't healthy. With the right therapist you have a safe area where you can let go.

I feel like "Deceit" is a strong word for what both of you did. I always associate it with vindictive behaviors. Sounds like it was more a case of her feeling fear and shame over her activities, and you experiencing fear and distrust.

One of my ex-girlfriends could generally not resist someone who mindfucked her. I'm not sure if Jeff was doing that on purpose, but that's absolutely the kind of reaction I'm seeing in this. I mean, I don't honestly see how a guy could engage with a happily married woman and through totally innocent behavior convince her to commit adultery. This isn't under the umbrella of "high-cost behavior", but I'd suggest she explore with her therapist why she found this so alluring. I'm not married yet so maybe it's a being-married thing, but the thought of some stranger, or even someone I once had a thing for, trying to mindfuck me into an affair just seems totally unappealing. I kind of feel like it's a big thing in your late teens and early twenties that you're supposed to grow out of. It's possible I've been quasi-mindfucked in the past few years and have been two dense to notice it, but I've certainly never found it to be an appealing characteristic and tend to avoid people who try to mess with my head.

Oh, and by the way, her high-cost behavior is not breaking contact with Jeff. That's not even a low-cost behavior. That's more like, a prerequisite. Even if she was 50% responsible for the progression of the potential affair, he is still the co-adulterer and thus is out of the picture entirely. Perhaps when you are all in the nursing home he can come over and you will all laugh over this. Until then he is gone and that doesn't give her any points.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:57 PM on May 4, 2009 [6 favorites]

Does this woman have a job at all? I think the high-cost activity would be for her be the one out delivering pizzas all night while you get to sit at home doing whatever you want.
posted by hazyjane at 11:02 PM on May 4, 2009 [23 favorites]

My gut response would be to work on the money/communication problem and quit that second job.
Other than that I'm not going to judge either of you or cast a vote in the blaming game. That's just lazy and snarky.

(I have heard so many Facebook/High School sweethearts/hooking up stories--they should rename it from Facebook to F-Book. The primary appeal of girls in high school was that they were high school girls, not 42-year-old soccer moms. I don't understand it.)
posted by mecran01 at 11:03 PM on May 4, 2009

Hmm, I like whoever is calling 'positive' actions. What about Liz gets day job while kids are in school, you quit pizza job, and you both have evenings together to be, well, together? I'm not sure if working is a 'sacrifice' on her part, but if your goals are to spend more time together, that's a goal she'd be able to actively contribute to.

Also, if you decide to put the kids in public school, one or both of you research which public schools around you are good.
posted by anitanita at 11:04 PM on May 4, 2009

I think your use of a keylogger was completely justified

I don't think you should face real consequences for keylogging, but I would hope one of the lessons of this experience would be to address trust issues completely. On the one hand, you did not trust your wife. On the other, you did not trust your own suspicions (otherwise you could have simply confronted her rather than gathering evidence).

I'm pretty sure that if you had gone to her early on in the exchange and said, "Look, I have a weird feeling about Jeff. I'm worried about his intentions, and I also am worried by the amount of time you're interacting with him. I understand that you were friends and I don't want to get in the way of your friendships but I just want to know if anything is going on." that she might have taken a harder look at what was happening and perhaps stopped altogether.

So your use of a keylogger was understandable but worse than addressing your fears with her directly. Think of the worst thing that could have happened: she responds with "Don't you trust me?" which is the same eventual response to your keylogging.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:05 PM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sounds like she needs more excitement out of life, she must be terribly bored if she's at home all the time.

She wanted to masturbate on webcam? Maybe she should be doing that with you. Perhaps there's room to explore what other kinks she might not have told you about.

Seedy hotel room? Get up on that, son.
posted by The Monkey at 11:16 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is your problem, OP: she needs a husband, not a rarely-seen wallet on (increasingly unsteady) legs. From your comments on how much you've been talking, and the fact that you both very much want to stay married, I would say that the problem is that you're spending no time with her, which is due to financial problems.

Both of you need to go to financial counselling, and seriously reconsider your sources of income and expenditure. Do you need to live in that house? How much equity have you got in it? As everyone else has said: do your kids need to go to that school? Is it more important that they get their education there, or that their parents remain undivorced? (Even a 10-year-old can grasp that kind of priority choice, and if you go to some effort to maintain the kid's friendship links and help him/her develop new ones, he/she will cope.)

Are you an employee or self-employed in your day job? If you own it, and your business is tanking, ask your accountant and yourself honestly whether it will actually improve, or if it will get worse. Is it saleable? Can you scrape any value out of it at all? If you're an employee, why are you staying with this job? It's damaging your marriage, your health, and your life.

Either way, what else can you do? A good place to start would be your client list - who has actually increased (or at least not decreased) their orders? Call them up and discreetly ask about jumping the fence to work for them. Go along to a local Chamber of Commerce meeting.

What can your wife do to bring in money to the family? There's no "sacrifice" or "high-cost" input here that she can possibly make that is of more value than helping to address the underlying problem: your household income minus your household expenditure is too low a figure. She should get a job. Tap grandad and granny for childcare for the four-year-old if they're willing. Even one day a week will help you all.

As others have said, change the after-hours work to something that you can all be involved in. Leaflet delivery pays on a similar scale to pizza delivery but has the advantages that kids can help fold leaflets, and delivering should be a nice walk around the neighborhood with the family.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:26 PM on May 4, 2009 [11 favorites]

You are not understanding high cost behaviours correctly. This is not an excuse for you to design a punishment for your wife. Arbitrary benchmarks like "prove how much you love me by oh, say, cutting off your hair" is not what we're going for here.

The high cost factor comes from the fact that if she is committed to saving the relationship, she will do whatever it takes to a) put the marriage first, and b) help you to feel confident within it. Therefore, rather than designing an artificial test and asking the internet to come up with ideas, you need to consult yourself - not us.

Think about what you need right now to feel secure. The answers needn't be noble but they need to be real. If what you need is MORE monitoring and not less, then that is fine. You're allowed to check up on her cell phone calls online, read her email, have her Facebook login, whatever - as long as she is aware and willing.

This is about making sure your needs are met, even when it's uncomfortable for her. It is NOT about setting the bar as high on the highjump as you possibly can and then saying "jump."
posted by DarlingBri at 11:32 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't get what "high cost behavior" A) really is, and B) what making someone pay a high price really has to do with recovering from infidelity. I do know that I think you ought to both have jobs, preferably during similar hours -- not because it would punish her, but because it should be your shared responsibility to earn an income (presuming that having the kids in private school is non-negotiable) while also establishing adequate time together as a couple to re-establish a shared sense of cooperation, togetherness, and intimacy. As long as your current set-up breeds loneliness/boredom on her part and exhaustion on yours, all the "high cost behavior" in the world isn't going to put you two on the same team as loving, committed partners -- which is precisely where you need to be. You both have legitimate needs that need to be met, now and on an ongoing basis. Punishment isn't actually going to accomplish that.

Two books that you might find helpful:
On the money front: All Your Worth
On the relationship front: How to Be an Adult in Relationships
posted by scody at 11:39 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're basically asking for things to do to show your mutual commitment to the marriage and to redress the sense of loss you both feel. I realise you got the high-low cost terms from the book from the therapist, but I think it's really unfortunate. It emphasises punishment over the cooperation and bridge building. I don't think it really applies in your situation. As other people have mentioned, your situation doesn't sound like it neatly fits into this sort of classic "affair" kinds of stuff. For all you know, if she'd actually met up with this guy (not a given), they both may have decided to not have had sex. Not excusing what she's done, but I'm pointing out that what she has actually done (vs what she expressed an interest in doing) doesn't quite fall into the sort of affair those kinds of books tend to discuss. This wasn't a year-long sexual relationship with her coworker. This was internet flirting and cybersex, at the very most. The internet is littered with the smoking remains of virtual relationships that died when it all became a bit too real.

I've been on the other side of this, in the sense that my ex-husband put a keylogger on my computer because he thought I was cheating. I wasn't. But finding out that he had violated my trust in this way was one of the nails in the coffin for the marriage. I know you've said that you realise it wasn't the best thing to do, and I'm not smacking you with a large stick over it... but I wanted to point out that you actually did something as or more serious than her internet relationship with this guy. In my case, the reason my ex thought I was cheating was because I was spending so damned much time online all of a sudden. I was doing that because I was avoiding spending time with him. He sensed the distance in the relationship and jumped to the wrong conclusions. But the distance? It was very real, all the same.

It may not be the answer you wanted, but I think you are making a big mistake in rushing to put a band aid over this situation. Session TWO after something like this, and you're looking to come to the table with ways for her to show she's sorry so she can move on? That's a bit soon to be making amends, I think. Not in a way that will actually stick. You both know you're at fault, and you want to put this behind you, sure. But don't rush this process of healing. You can't exchange sacrifices, say sorry, dust your hands off, and get immediately back to normal. You were in therapy together before you discovered the affair. She was sitting in therapy with you, then going home to plan her meet up with Jeff. Either she isn't fully participating in therapy, or she really didn't think this thing with Jeff was damaging to your relationship... which sounds a bit too naive to believe. You both need to be honest about why this all happened. Why the distrust from you? Why the disrespect from both of you towards your marriage? Your distrust overrode your respect for your wife's privacy... her need for attention or validation overrode her respect for your mutually agreed fidelity. That's the problem you need to overcome. It won't be a quick fix, and it's going to be scary. Particularly if you have kids and a million other reasons to stay together. But you have to do it if you don't want to be back in couples counseling (or in divorce court) in a few years for just the same problems you're dealing with now. No amount of high/low cost sacrifice exchange will resolve the actual kinds of problems you seem to have in your marriage.
posted by Grrlscout at 11:43 PM on May 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

When I post to askme, it's because I'm hoping for a solution. Sometimes I'm hoping for a solution that can fix my problem straight away and stop me hurting. I'm sorry to tell you that this can't happen for you guys right now. Apart from the work you're doing with the therapist, it's going to take a long time of being completely trustworthy for each of you to trust each other.

It's also going to be hurtful for as long as each of you need to blow off steam because of the other's behaviour, and you BOTH need to accept that you have the right to do that. So she says "I still can't believe you spied on me." This is not where you say "well, you were going to cheat on me." This is where you say, "I know it hurts, I'm sorry." And at some other time you can say, "I'm desperately hurting because you were prepared to break our vows, and I feel like you did, emotionally, if not physically," and that's not where she says "but you were out working two jobs and I never saw you and our sex life sucked." This is where she says, "I really hurt you. I understand why you're angry. As long as you need to, you can tell me how much and why it hurts and I will go on listening because I owe it to you, even though I don't want to because I hate the person I've become" and so on.

I suspect that this sort of thing will probably go on for a couple of years, and it will hurt you both a lot but when you come out the other side, you will come out knowing that you can trust each other completely, and you will know that you are the best person for each other in the most difficult of events.

So, no name calling, ever. No whore. No arsehole. No sexless useless etc . You guys just can't do that. There's plenty to say, and plenty to learn what's about inside you without resorting to namecalling. No discussing it in front of the kids. Both of you need to be prepared to prove what you were doing, so as to reassure the other partner.

I know it's hurting you both right now, but you can come through this, a better stronger more loving couple.
posted by b33j at 12:13 AM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think some extra data might help here. One of the things I note from the cursory read (different book, same author), the author is speaking to the person who committed the act of infidelity about how they can regain their partner's trust.(Not to the other person about how to punish their partner).

She talks about talking with your partner, finding out what is meaningful to them, that it isn't about punishment, that actions mean more than words, that it takes time to forgive, but that with commitment, it is possible to regain trust and become a stronger couple. All things a number of folks have suggested (you folks could write books!)

I still get the sense, OP, that what you're seeking is other people's experience about what actions they took to regain their partner's trust, of if we were in your experience, what would be signs that our partner was trying to foster and regain trust, since it seems like you both were somewhat surprised about how it all started so well and then went all slightly nuclear option on each other. I could be wrong, but there you go.

The point is that the book doesn't emphasize punishment, though it seems that some of us may be reading that into the question (I can't speak to whether the OP is seeking possible forms of punishment - from all the effort he and Liz have been going through, I don't know if I read it as "how can I punish her'. I don't think so)

Read here
posted by anitanita at 12:38 AM on May 5, 2009

Some of the posts above bring out some interesting points about the structure of the relationship:

1) Private school isn't really affordable, so...
2) You work two jobs, so...
3) You have no time to see your wife.


4) You don't indicate that your wife has a job (apart from raising three kids)
5) She seems to have time to amuse herself.

While there are of course some emotional matters to deal with, dealing with them in a consistent way might be easiest if you deal seriously first with the time/money imbalance.

Why don't you drop the nightjob, and have her take one?

Or, perhaps more to the point, why not drop the nightjob, take the kids out of private school, and with your additional time in the evenings, tutor your kids yourself...

and perhaps best of all, alongside your wife?
posted by darth_tedious at 1:09 AM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Remember that the concept of high- and low-cost behaviors originates in a book that our therapist gave to us.

Fair. But Amazon says this is a 304-page book. I'm sure there's something in it besides this "high-cost behavior" idea that you've latched onto.

I'd be surprised if your therapist gave you the book as a signal that you should make your wife suffer. Is there stuff about communication in there? About feelings? About learning from what happened? If there is, maybe you should be focusing on that stuff rather than trying to brainstorm clever punishments. (And if there isn't anything in there about communication, feelings or learning, then it's a sorry excuse for a relationship advice book and you should probably chuck it.)

I'm sorry if this sounds snarky. I know what it's like to be cheated on, and I understand how angry you must be. I'm sure it really would feel nice to make your wife jump through some hoops to prove her devotion — and doubly so if you can claim it's not your fault. ("I didn't want to punish her! The Experts told me I had to!") I'm just really skeptical that it's going to help any.

And — this is important — I'm not telling you to bottle that anger up either. You don't get to take it out on her in ingenious ways, but you do get to talk to her about it. It might be less viscerally satisfying to think about, but doing it will feel better (actually punishing someone you love is really, really no fun at all) and will help a lot more.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:19 AM on May 5, 2009

This is your problem, OP: she needs a husband, not a rarely-seen wallet on (increasingly unsteady) legs.

What. The. Hell?! What is with so many of the posters claiming that this is triggered by the OP working his ass off to try and keep his family stable? From what I read, this second job is a relatively new thing due to the financial troubles we've all been experiencing. So it's probably been a few months if that. What happened to the part of the marriage vows that said "for better or worse"? Right now we're ALL going through some worse with the economy, but will eventually change.

Here's a question for you. If you believe that his spouse had an excuse here to go and try to hook up because the OP was not home as much due to his work commitments, then surely you must be perfectly all right with any serviceman/servicewoman's spouse doing the same when they are deployed away from home, correct?

As for what to do, try to reduce the financial burden. That means putting your kids in public school for a year, but do it next year. The school year's over in a month and three quarters and pulling them out would be more of a symbolic gesture than a real attempt to slash costs. Plus it would disrupt your kids' school year dramatically.

For your spouse and her high-cost item, I would say it's time for her to get a first or second job part time as well. If this happened in part because she's bored at home on facebook, she can get out and earn a few bucks instead and channel that boredom into a positive area.

Don't get a laptop just for her as a big "I'm trusting you" message because firstly it'll be a symbol sitting there on the table for you both to see of why there needs to be a show of trust, and secondly you're in financial issues now and buying a laptop is an unneccessary expense. If you're making money like I used to when I delivered pizza ages ago I'm guessing that would be at least 10 days worth of pizza work to pay for one (and a cheap one at that). If you can really afford to take 10 days of pizza revenue out of the eqation, you'd be better off just calling in sick for 10 shifts and spending time working things out with your wife.
posted by barc0001 at 2:22 AM on May 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

1.) I think it speaks to ya'll that you've seen the worst of each other and still want to be married.

2.) Put the kids in private school so you can spend time with your wife, otherwise she'll be once again discussing head and masturbation fantasies with some other guy.

3.) Remember, she has a job and it's raising three kids BY HERSELF, while you're gone for 12-14 hours a day on weekdays and 6-10 hours a day on weekends

4.) Not only are you losing out on time with your wife, you're losing out on time with the kids.

5.) As parents, you both need to realize that the marriage is your most important relationship. Kids are important and obviously every parent puts them first in a lot of ways, but kids grow up and need you less and less and move away. In marriage, you never move away, ideally it's forever. You can't take that for granted and put your kids in front of that to the extent that it damages the marriage, because then you'll have a destroyed marriage and destroyed kids.
If I were you, I'd keep the kids in private school when young and then send them to public school as they grow. That way they're getting the more rigorous schooling as a foundation which they can use for the rest of their school career.

6.) When you finally confronted her, it sounds like she coped to what was going on. That seems to speak well to an ability to talk and communicate, so try and build on that.

7.) YOU need to learn how talk and communicate. This whole installing key loggers is kinda insane. It's one thing to check chat logs if you're really suspicious, but once you say they were being deleted, you should have come clean and starting talking to her.

So, I'd like some ideas about what might be considered high-cost behaviors.

Your wife was about to have an affair. She's probably lonely, exhausted from raising the kids alone and still wanting that ego boost. Have you given it to her? Are you capable of giving it to her or are you exhausted from working the two jobs, seven days a week? What exactly does she mean by ego boost, have two discussed that?

As others have said, the high cost behavior exercise may not apply here. It sounds like she's already sacrificed a lot and that's what made an affair seem appealing.

What is with so many of the posters claiming that this is triggered by the OP working his ass off to try and keep his family stable?

He's literally not there most of the day and she's left to raise the kids alone. That's extremely hard and lonely. That's her full time job and it's so damn full she can't even have affair if she wants to.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:52 AM on May 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

The idea of these high-cost behaviours seems mad to me -- not at all in line with my way of thinking about how relationships should work.

In this situation, isn't the solution found in *choosing* to forgive your wife and trust her again? Not about her *proving* to you that she's trustworthy.

Finding a sacrifice that your wife must make in order to prove that you can trust her seems like the antithesis of a healthy relationship.

At some point you have to make a decision to put this behind you and move forward -- or not. You can drag that out through weeks of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Or you can shortcut all that stuff, stop holding on to your hurt feelings, the pair of you stop wallowing in relationship drama, and move on.
posted by Lleyam at 3:50 AM on May 5, 2009

What about home schooling?

And, are the grandparents interested in helping out with private school tuition, for that matter?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:54 AM on May 5, 2009

barc0001 What. The. Hell?! What is with so many of the posters claiming that this is triggered by the OP working his ass off to try and keep his family stable?

His motives are noble but the proximate effect of his actions are that he spends insufficient time with his wife. He is, as the classic metaphor goes, destroying the village in order to save it.

From what I read, this second job is a relatively new thing due to the financial troubles we've all been experiencing. So it's probably been a few months if that. What happened to the part of the marriage vows that said "for better or worse"? Right now we're ALL going through some worse with the economy, but will eventually change.

"Eventually" is all very well but the OP and his wife and kids need to deal with the here and now. There is also no guarantee how long "eventually" will be; the recession could deepen and last twenty years. It is extremely difficult to sustain 14 hour days separated from your family and still be a good husband and father.

Here's a question for you. If you believe that his spouse had an excuse here to go and try to hook up because the OP was not home as much due to his work commitments, then surely you must be perfectly all right with any serviceman/servicewoman's spouse doing the same when they are deployed away from home, correct?

No, you're completely failing to grasp the difference between explanation and excuse. His excessive work commitments explain, but do not excuse, his wife's infidelity. Obviously the same tensions will be there with military people deployed away from home, miners, long-haul truck drivers, etc etc. It's unfortunate that things got to the point they did before the OP and his wife actually addressed it. Just because the OP's wife did the worse thing, just because his motives for working ridiculous hours were providing for his family (although perhaps at an unsustainable and unjustified social status level), and her motives for having an affair were a combination of boredom, sexual frustration, and unresolved high-school issues, does not imply that the situation is entirely her fault.

They may decide as a couple that it is best he continue to work ridiculous hours. If so, they should address as a couple the emotional burden that clearly puts on the OP's wife, who although she may be kept in the house she likes and the lifestyle she likes, no longer has the husband she loves. At least he can look into doing some kind of work or run some kind of business from home that isn't the sort of McJob a high school kid with no qualifications, experience or ambition can be expected to sustain. Preferably something his wife and kids can be involved in.

As for what to do, try to reduce the financial burden. That means putting your kids in public school for a year, but do it next year. The school year's over in a month and three quarters and pulling them out would be more of a symbolic gesture than a real attempt to slash costs. Plus it would disrupt your kids' school year dramatically.

A reasonable and valid point, that I don't think anyone would dispute. Their school fees have probably been paid to the end of the semester anyway.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:30 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your wife didn't cheat on you. She is suggesting in a chat session that she would and the close proximity of the other man means that it is more likely to occur but she still seems resistant to the idea. I think you should take life-changing solutions: put the kids in a public school or cheaper private school and give yourself time off to have a family/husband life. You need to insert yourself into your wife's life again by being everything to her and offering yourself up for 'anything' whenever possible.
posted by parmanparman at 4:58 AM on May 5, 2009

Are you mad at her?
Is she torn up about it?
Would she have an affair tomorrow if she knew 100% you'd never find out about it?

I feel like these are important questions and I can't answers for them in what you've written. That sort of worries me.

Her deceit is also troubling. It's hard to call what she did in some way a ploy to get more attention. What she almost did was something extremely shitty, she gambled your happiness, and to some degree the happiness of your kids, on an ego boost and pity fuck. I'm not saying DTMFA, but you do need to admit—at least for a moment—that you are MTaMF.

And if you do still love her despite the fucking shitty thing she was about to do, you should remind yourself why real hard. From how you've described, I sort of get the impression that you are in "emergency management" robot-dude mode, trying to hide your own feelings, what with this list of findings, and the checklist of steps that are the sanctioned Best Practices, read book A twice daily, etc. Do you love her because you feel like everything will fall apart if you don't? It sounds like you had a lot of balls in the air already, so make sure your go-to answer for fixing things is "I'll just juggle faster!" because this thing isn't another ball...

But then I don't know what might work for you guys. Everyone has to find their own way through paths like this. I'm just some dude at a bar saying these things to you. And if it helps put things in perspective, I may have had a few.

But to me the bottom line is that she needs to show you why you should still love her. Asserting that you do still love her then asking what sort of big sacrifices she should make seems backwards. She put it all on the line, buddy! You can't just push it back like it didn't happen and argue about whose wrist should be slapped how hard.

Oh, and your checking up on her stuff? Forget about feeling bad about that now. That kind of thing can whittle away trust. What she did was drop a fucking nuclear bomb on trust.
posted by fleacircus at 5:02 AM on May 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

Wife needs a damn part-time job during the day while the kids are at school. Not only is it unfair of her that you're having to work two jobs in order to make ends meet and have little quality time to spend at home, but your wife's desire for an “ego-boosting” fling (and with a guy who sounds like kind of a loser, sorry) suggests that your wife is already feeling useless and may benefit from obtaining more appropriate sources of adult validation.
posted by applemeat at 5:18 AM on May 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Nth-ing the suggestion she seek out a career which can help her define herself. It sounds like right now she is defining herself by how she meets other people's needs (kids', yours, ex-boyfriend's). Take the kids out of private school, downsize your lifestyle, and get her in school or working full-time towards a meaningful career.

Your behavior is worrisome, because it is obsessive and unhealthy. I feel like the "high cost" sacrifices would just reinforce these patterns. Secret monitoring is not just deceptive, this is the type of behavior that starts many abusive relationships - it's controlling. She did not commit that act - and while you can both be sure all you want that she would have, she did not. You pre-empted her actions and basically just took a choice away from her. If she had driven to the hotel room, even if she had gone inside with him, it does not mean she would have done it. You will never be able to know what would have happened in that room now.

It sounds like she needs her own ways to define herself as do you. You are working too much, how can you possibly enjoy the life you have built together? It sounds like you are avoiding it as much as you possibly can. I understand that you want to stay together, but if that is so you can get back to more of the same I would point out it's very unfair to your children. No one wants to be the reason their parents "stick it out" for another five or ten years. Especially if you continue escaping your life by working yourself to the bone and she is living in a fantasy world to escape her own reality.
posted by SassHat at 5:27 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wife needs a damn part-time job during the day while the kids are at school.

The youngest child is 4 and probably not in school.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:34 AM on May 5, 2009

I still feel guilty for spying. I hate that part of myself, and those of you who said I should have come out and been up front in the beginning may be right. We'll be addressing that in therapy.

I disagree. If you were upfront about your suspicions, it just would have made her more secretive and thus more likely to get away with it. She put her ego and vagina ahead of you and your children. That's what needs addressing.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:45 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're home long enough to sleep and drop off the money, apparently.

This is your problem, OP: she needs a husband, not a rarely-seen wallet on (increasingly unsteady) legs.

Please stop making this man, who is obviously doing what is desperately needed to keep this family financially sound, feel as if his responsible behaviors caused or, by their side effects justify, his wife's infidelity. I do not live in a universe (nor can I imagine anyone would want to) where someone gets a free pass for infidelity because she's lonely and bored after putting ALL of the financial responsibility in the marriage on one person.

I think the terms "low-cost" and "high-cost" behaviors are probably unfortunately named, perhaps hard to describe in the short form of this post, and shorthand for more difficult concepts. But, they are a language that you, your wife and your therapist have chosen to use, and in issues like this I think having a similar language helps communication. So I don't like the terms, but I agree they can be worth working with.

So, I would call "low-cost" behaviors things like closing her FB account and not opening a new one. Nobody NEEDS Facebook. A "low-cost" behavior might be putting some of that time and energy she's spent pitying poor, dear, sad, depressed Jeff into YOU, in many small ways. Greet you with pleasure when you come home from slaving your butt off at two jobs, pour a glass of wine. Get the kids to bed an hour earlier (I know, easier said than done) so you two can have at least a minute together. For you, how about some "low-cost" behaviors like making her feel sexy, even if you're tired. If she's asleep when you come home, wake her up with a long, slow, deep kiss. Teach her that SHE is the most wonderful creature you've ever seen, and she should teach you the same. To me, I would define "low-cost behaviors" as simple things done on a day to day basis not as a form of punishment or withholding, but positive behaviors designed to start a habit of more satisfying, loving, open, honest, caring and mutually supportive interactions.

On to "high-cost" behaviors. At the end of the day, I do agree that something needs to happen where she can find some source of income, to alleviate the stress. I don't know if I agree with changing the entire course of the kids schooling, that's a very personal decision between you and your wife and not something people on the internet who've never met your kids should answer. I realize that her employment might require you to assume child-care costs, but remember you get a huge tax credit for that at the end of the year (yes?). At any rate, why don't you set her the task of planning a weekend trip, drop the kids off with grandparents, somewhere affordable (make a budget), where the two of you can spend a night or two ALONE. I don't think this is one of those situations where you can say "The high-cost behavior I expect is that you have or talk to no male friends until I rebuild trust," or something, because to me, that is not rebuilding trust - it's living in a vacuum, in a storybook. I think the high-cost behavior for BOTH of you should be that you are spending the majority of free time with each other, helping each other, sharing each other's burdens. If she's got free time to sit chatting, she needs to fill it with something that supports rather than undercuts the marriage. You have no free time: you should be given some, priority number one. But that free time should be spent building your mutual love with your wife. (Of course, everyone needs some alone downtime, and not every minute of the day can be scheduled).

Good luck.
posted by bunnycup at 6:15 AM on May 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

This is your problem, OP: she needs a husband, not a rarely-seen wallet on (increasingly unsteady) legs.

I'm pretty tired of the victim-blaming going on in this thread. Working hard is not an excuse for an affair. There are plenty of women and men who have spouses who go on long business trips, or who work long days, or who serve overseas, who manage to not have affairs.

If this marriage is going to be saved, the impetus is on the cheater to save it. Why didn't she post this thread? Why isn't she asking us how to fix things?

So, I'd like some ideas about what might be considered high-cost behaviors.

I haven't really seen or heard any effort on her part that's either a low or high-cost behavior. She allegedly stopped contacting Jeff. That's a given. Maybe she should start showing you that she's in this for real. I'm not seeing it.

I have learned that she never intended to leave me, that it would have been an ego boost for her and a sympathy fuck for him.

Well, yeah. Pretty sweet deal for her: she gets you to pay for food, your home, and the kids' education while she fucks some other guy. The only reason it didn't happen - the only reason it's not going on right now - is that you caught her planning to do it. She is using you, and she does not love you. You've already decided that you're sticking by her, and I won't tell you otherwise - but the next time it happens, and it will, collect all the evidence and get a very, very expensive lawyer.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:11 AM on May 5, 2009 [9 favorites]

Years ago, I had a girlfriend who cheated on me. At the time, I fervently demanded (and she kindly went along with) "high-cost" changes. In retrospect, though, those changes were mostly about punishing her, and in the end they did almost as much damage to the relationship as did the cheating in the first place.

The reason they didn't work at all was that her cheating was (while not right, and not excusable) a response to very real problems in our relationship, problems caused at least as much by me as by her. It's not that she was right to cheat -- it's that I helped create a situation where she had every incentive to cheat, and no incentive to make our relationship better.

So until or unless the underlying problems are addressed, you aren't really fixing anything. And I think it's really important to have both parties involved in (high- or low-cost) changes. It took both of you to break the relationship, and it will take both of you to fix it. So maybe she needs to stop calling him, but perhaps at the same time you need to be there for her in some meaningful ways that you haven't been.
posted by Forktine at 7:44 AM on May 5, 2009 [16 favorites]

What an incredibly well-written question. Like Ironmouth, I thought this was some sort of ad campaign. Anyway, one thing missing from this question is how you feel ... the story you've told gives a balanced perspective of how this happened to both of you, how both of you were wronged, etc. It's exactly the sort of thing you should write, given that your spouse knows about this question and will likely be reading it. But it's hard to get a sense of how you actually _feel_, beneath the sanitized surface.

It's hard to get a context on what "high cost" means without knowing how you feel. Is there part of you that feels she owes you something? In other words, do you feel like you gained some currency from this that you can now spend by making her do the dishes every night for the next 3 months, or getting a second job or never using a computer or whatever? If so, I think it's the wrong approach.

But if high cost means a behavior that reinvests her energy into the relationship, then I think it's a great idea. This is where I think other posters are going with ideas like quitting the private school, having you and/or her tutor the kids to make up the difference, and spending more time as a couple.

Try to schedule some time each day (or at least each week) that is intimate time for just the two of you. Take a walk together, or romp in bed, or give each other backrubs. Treat that time like a work commitment and don't bail on it, no matter what.

I hope you can work this all out, by the way.
posted by Happydaz at 8:12 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sometimes we attach to a 'derail'. Meaning we see something in a book, something our therapist says, and we attach to it as the focal point. I think what many people here are saying is that you attached to the wrong focal point. The therapist should still, and for a long time, be working on the underlying problems (which I am sure they are).

Also, I just read the page. I believe you misunderstood the idea of what high cost behavior is, and why they address it. These cost behaviors seem to be about recreating your relationship in a way that works for both of you. The high cost behaviors are the 'proof' that the partner is serious. This is just part of the whole process (and just one option, btw), and one that this writer created so the cheated on partner will feel better.

Books aren't perfect. Therapists aren't perfect. What we get out of them isn't perfect. I am making the suggestion that you 'let go' of the high-cost behavior ideas for right now and refocus on processing the shock and pain, and focus and talk about the underlying issues and changes that can/need to happen.

Once you peel back the layers you will find what really made you unsafe in the relationship and then you will find what you need to ask of her to make you feel safe.

posted by Vaike at 8:33 AM on May 5, 2009

I'm so sorry for this experience.

I do think that "what are some high-cost behaviors she can do to make this right" is the wrong question, as others have said. As I understand After the Affair, the high-cost and low-cost behaviors are meant to be connected directly to a) ending the affair, b) minimizing the fallout, and c) rebuilding the marriage.

The only behavior she can engage in regarding ending the affair is cutting off contact with Jeff. The only behavior she can engage in regarding minimizing the fallout, as far as I can see, is working on counseling, which you're doing. (The stuff like "change jobs," which can obviously do a lot to minimize fallout in the case of a workplace affair, doesn't seem to be relevant here.) The behaviors around rebuilding the marriage are something that only the two of you can decide on, in conjunction with the therapist and other people whom you rely on as sources of advice and guidance.

If your therapist gave you the impression that it's important for the unfaithful, agreement-breaking partner to "make sacrifices" as an earnest of their commitment to the relationship, regardless of whether those sacrifices are connected to the key work of ending the affair, minimizing the fallout, and rebuilding the marriage, I would question that. Perhaps there was a miscommunication or misunderstanding?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:38 AM on May 5, 2009

I'm not blaming the OP for his wife's affair. I did not say that him not being home caused the affair. Plenty of women would be in the same situation and not go there. But I don't think it's helping the situation one bit to have him be an absent wallet. She's lonely and made this particular choice to deal with it. Which isn't right, and she's stopping the behavior, but as things stand now, she's still going to be lonely and possibly fall into temptation with someone else for all I know. I don't think it'll help them save the marriage at all if he continues to not be there.

Yes, it'll suck for the kids to lose their friends at private school, but it'll suck worse when Mommy and Daddy get a divorce in a year after Daddy keeps working so hard and the marital problems continue even without Jeff involved. And while the economy sucks for everybody, private school does not strike me as an absolute 100% "this must be saved at all costs, even at the expense of the marriage" thing here. It's something that can be cut from the budget come fall 2009. I don't think this situation can wait X number of years, continuing as it is. I'd say keep the kids in till the end of the school year, but after that, it's time for Joe Public School and Mommy and Daddy working on their marriage during Daddy's new free time.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:45 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a total aside, but I wanted to address the ideas about private school vs. public school.

When looking at this decision, there are a lot of variables. There is definitely not one right answer in all situations. I've taught in both private school and public school. There's no guarantee in the world that the private school is more rigorous. In my case, both private schools were actually far less rigorous than public school. What they did offer was more encouragement of individual interests, lower student-teacher ratio and thus more personal attention and a warmer relationship, and a pleasant social environment in which only self-selecting families were present. Academically, though, the kids fared worse and had deficits in achievements than their public school peers when entering high school, though ultimately everyone in the school community did well and went on to good colleges.

You need to know why you think private school is better. If it's because you want your kids to have that warm, personal, individual environment, that's important. But if it's that you think private school will guarantee a better outcome or more learning, definitely question that. A lot of private schools simply can't show better achievement than public schools.

Of course there are lots of variables, as I said, like the quality and funding and character of your local public schools, whether there are moral or philosophical or religious aspects to the choice of private school, whether your kids need additional services (tutoring, learning disability adaptation, counseling support) which private schools don't offer as much of, whether you might find the diversity of the student body in a public school a plus, whether the teachers are as qualified in the private school vs. the public, etc.

But whatever you do, please don't buy the line that private schools are always better. It's just not true. Private schooling is a choice for those who value it and think it's right for their kids and can afford it, but it is absolutely not necessary to ultimate success in life, college, and career.
posted by Miko at 8:57 AM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Some of the responses here are building on baseless assumptions like: your wife cheated b/c she's lonely, or that you are living beyond your means has something to do with it, or that your wife is sitting around while you bust your ass.

Nothing in your post confirms any of these things. You have told us how the infidelity occurred but we really don't know why. So, answers based on guesses are not going to help you.

Since we don't know the context in which the cheating occurred, it's hard to suggest meaningful gestures/ sacrifices for either one of you to make. I think, once you are both able to reach truly and deeply mutual comprehension about one another's realities in this marriage, you will know the course of action to take. You will know, for instance, 'if I do action X, it undermines his trust in me', or 'if I don't do gesture Y on a regular basis, she feels neglected.' Of course- these are oversimplifications, but hopefully you get my point.

You say your wife needed the ego boost- well that, right there, deserves a great deal of exploration as does your role in partnering with someone who may have self-esteem issues that you perhaps contribute to. Or perhaps you don't. There just isn't enough information here.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 9:34 AM on May 5, 2009

I meant to add: good luck to you both- give each other a hug for your willingness to work this through. When you come out the other side you will both have grown from this experience.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 9:37 AM on May 5, 2009

She's lonely and made this particular choice to deal with it.

This has been stated as fact by several people. But we don't know this to be true -- it's just as likely that she was excited by the thrill of having secret sex with a guy who always turned her on. I think the "lonely" rationale is being advanced as a convenience to shield her from blame and shift it to him.

Good luck, S!P!
posted by pardonyou? at 9:49 AM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

There is a huge, huge gap in communication here and I don't think all the "high cost" sacrifices in the world will matter one whit if you still can't discuss the thorny things at the end of the day.

IF your long absences are part of the explanation for her infidelity* (and I don't care that she never laid a hand on the guy - she still cheated), she needs to have said "HEY YOU BEING GONE ALL THE TIME IS UNACCEPTABLE AND WE NEED TO FIND ANOTHER SOLUTION TO OUR FINANCIAL WOES." If she did say that, and you didn't listen, thats problem #2.

IF you suspected she was cheating, you needed to say something instead of monitoring her chats and installing a keylogger. this has been amply discussed above.

the fact that neither of you two said these things is way more problematic than the things themselves happening. I assume this will be addressed in counseling but I think that what needs to be on your minds every second of the day is HONESTY. The trust wasn't broken when she cheated and you installed a keylogger. It was broken at the point where you and she didn't say the things you needed to say.

*And I don't buy this, my husband was essentially gone for most of the first six months of our marriage and I was never once tempted to cheat.
posted by desjardins at 10:17 AM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't know if this will get read so far down, and I don't really have an answer for much of what has been asked. Just that my only thought is, wouldn't high or low cost measures just serve as a reminder of what happened instead of helping to close and heal it all? Having to report to you when she talks to guys, or not being able to use im, or anything like that will just remind both you and her what caused these restrictions to be implemented.

I'm nowhere near a great understander of marriage and relationships however, so I might be wholly wrong on all that I just said, just a point to consider.
posted by tumples at 10:45 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

And I don't buy this, my husband was essentially gone for most of the first six months of our marriage and I was never once tempted to cheat.

Respectfully, I would suggest that being married for six months is a pretty different kettle of fish than being married fore 13 years. The notion that a spouse might feel bored/lonely/restless/etc. under the circumstances that poster descibes is certainly plausible. Whether or not it's actually true in this case, we obviously don't know for sure (and even if it is, it's not an excuse), but saying "long absences can lead to loneliness, especially after more than a decade of marriage" is not really a particularly outlandish explanation.

posted by scody at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yes, good clarification scody. What I meant to say, and would have if I'd had more caffeine, is that while the OP's absence could be a contributing factor to the wife's choices, it's still her choice and not one that she was forced to make, and not one that everyone in her situation would necessarily make. She's still responsible for it, and more importantly (imho), she's still responsible for not having said what she needed to say in order to avoid the mess you're now in.
posted by desjardins at 11:05 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yep, I totally agree with that. I think you make a good point about the idea of communication -- it's not a magic, abstract thing that just happens; it's a responsibility that both partners have to actively take on to articulate their needs, feelings, etc.
posted by scody at 11:22 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I haven't read all the comments yet, but aside from cutting off all contact with Jeff, as a high-cost behavior your wife could take on an evening job (delivering pizzas, perhaps?) so you can spend your evenings relaxing with your kids. Your post doesn't say whether or not she works at all outside the home, but it seems ludicrously unfair to me that you're working 14 hour days to keep your kids in private school while she's trying to figure out how to dump them on her parents so she can go fuck an ex.

I'm sure you had a good reason for this set-up in the first place, but it's time for her to make some sacrifices now. Giving you some time off seems like a good way to do it. As an added bonus, getting of the house and interacting with others might give more mature interaction than the kids provide, limiting her need to go searching for that interaction in inappropriate places.

Apologies if someone already suggested this, but if they did, consider this a seconding, thirding, n-thing of what seems like the best possible solution.
posted by booknerd at 11:34 AM on May 5, 2009

your wife could take on an evening job (delivering pizzas, perhaps?) so you can spend your evenings relaxing with your kids.

Getting a four-year-old to bed is pretty much the opposite of "relaxing" most of the time, in my experience. Caring for kids is work, even when it's not paid, especially young kids.

Which is not to say, by any means, that he should do all the paid work and she should do all the unpaid work--it might be a really good idea for them to make the change you suggest--but the idea that that would somehow be more "relaxing" for him than delivering pizzas might not hold up upon examination.

And it still doesn't address the issue of he and his wife not having time together.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:13 PM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Please stop making this man, who is obviously doing what is desperately needed to keep this family financially sound, feel as if his responsible behaviors caused or, by their side effects justify, his wife's infidelity. I do not live in a universe (nor can I imagine anyone would want to) where someone gets a free pass for infidelity because she's lonely and bored after putting ALL of the financial responsibility in the marriage on one person.

I'm pretty tired of the victim-blaming going on in this thread. Working hard is not an excuse for an affair.

No, the wife being lonely doesn't give her a free pass, but it might partly explain why she did what she did (aka drawing a distinction between explanations/reasons and excuses/justifications).

My 2 cents: I don't know enough about your specific situation (so take this with a grain of salt), but it sounds like you're trying to live beyond your means, which is just a nice way of saying you're putting their lifestyle above your kids and your marriage and your family. That, to me, is the elephant in the room with most marriages these days--confusing time spent earning money that gets spent on the family and time spent together as a family. One is not a suitable replacement for the other (and it goes both ways). I would say even 8 hours a day of even one adult being gone is pretty rough on most families, growing up I know it was a major issue for mine, and that's not even mentioning the kids being away for most of the day. Contrast this with most of the time humans have been in existence when there were no 8 hour work days/careers and no far removed schools and you have to start reevaluating your priorities when it comes to lifestyle expectations--even things you think of as necessities. Try to reorganize your family life so that you can spend a healthy amount of time being with eachother. If you have signifigant savings now would be the time to use that money (which makes this whole process of scaling back a lot easier). Believe it or not, you mostly are in control of whether this economic downturn affects your family life, and you shouldn't be using that as an excuse (even though/if it's a valid one!). [I guess I should note that I don't have a family, but I've been part of one and I'm planning on starting one in the next couple years and so I think about it a lot and I've been reading and talking to a lot of people about it as of late.]
posted by symbollocks at 1:04 PM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments removed. Kind of late in the thread to start pushing on the "what's the question" angle; take it to metatalk if it's a big deal, otherwise just take a pass on this one maybe?
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:26 PM on May 5, 2009

I was resisting answering your question, because I had an emotional affair while I was married (10 years, now divorced) and felt that perhaps you would not like to hear from someone who did a similar thing as your wife.

You ask what a "high cost" behavior might be that could help your wife regain your trust. I think that the highest cost behavior on her part would be honesty. There are so many resentments, disappointments, unmet needs, desires that get glossed over and buried under the pavement of a "happy marriage." I too had a "happy marriage," with a successful husband who worked long hours to pursue what we thought was a shared goal. As it turned out, I did not truly share the goals that he had. I wasn't honest with myself, or with him, and it came out in behaviors that eventually snowballed and released such a floodgate of resentment that neither of us knew what hit us.

If I were in your shoes, I would ask that my wife pursue not only couples therapy with me, but individual therapy that can help her realize what she really wants from her life and learn how to ask for it. Just because you don't fight, doesn't mean that everything is ok. A lot of us never learned that lesson, and it takes a long time to learn to really listen to our hearts.

Demand that your wife talk to you - about everything. You will find that you have things to talk about too. I wish you good luck, and I admire you for making the effort to make your marriage work.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:38 PM on May 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

The French have an expression, "sometimes a relationship is so heavy it takes three to lift it." She had her fantasy, nothing happened, thanks to your diligence, but still it didn't.

Myself, I'm not down with OPP. The GF has all my passwords, including Metafilter. I could have hers if I really wanted them, but they are too long and complicated. My sister and her husband only have one email address.

I'd say that's your "high cost" adjustment, each of you should put ALL your passwords to everything on a sheet of paper and slip it in a drawer. And no one should be sending anything they can't share with their spouse. At least until this crisis of confidence has passed.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:51 PM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

This book can't fix your relationship. There's no prescription, no formula that your imaginary Internet friends can provide. The process of healing is part of the healing. Your wife can and should be thinking of ways to make it up to you, and ways to reestablish trust. You should be thinking of ways to forgive her. You should both reconsider your financial choices. If you can't afford private school, then this is a good time to rethink next year's enrollment. Maybe she could work part time. Not only does your wife not see you enough; your kids don't see you enough. You should both be thinking of ways to rebuild your love. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 4:03 PM on May 5, 2009

"I wanted to point out that you actually did something as or more serious than her internet relationship with this guy."

Um, no. Totally wrong.

OP, I know why you thought you had to install a keylogger, and several people have brought up the point that it may have been better to just confront her right then - but I just wanted to say that there is no way that what you did even compares with what she was doing.
posted by HopperFan at 4:41 PM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I can tell you firsthand what can come from early confrontation. Denial. Then oodles and oodles of self-doubt, as you force yourself to trust the word of another person over your own instincts. One of the most damaging effects of long-term infidelity (or at least long-term deception involving infidelity) is that you lose the ability to trust yourself. You don't know what to believe anymore. The gradual self-betrayal is almost worse, in cumulative effect, than the betrayal by someone else.

Would she have quit after the one time? Would you have spent months doubting yourself, beating yourself up, blaming yourself? Turning over every aspect of your life and behaviour to see if there is something wrong -- anything wrong -- that you can "fix", that can explain in another way the knot in your gut and the dizzy feeling when you stumble into another clue that doesn't fit?

No way of knowing. But "better off" confronting her at the time? Hardly a foregone conclusion.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:08 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

but the idea that that would somehow be more "relaxing" for him than delivering pizzas might not hold up upon examination.

I find days at home with my kid more relaxing than work. YMMV.

As far as the finances go, there's no particular reason that a parent of at-school children can't be working during school time. It's pretty common. My family did it, and most of the ones around us did.
posted by rodgerd at 6:33 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, this is a busy thread. Some really good stuff here, and I (again!) appreciate all the energy each of you have spent on my question.

Relevant points that occurred to me as I was reading the latest updates:

1 - We have decided (or discovered) that we made the wrong sacrifices for the wrong reasons, putting family at risk for the sake of lifestyle. We have a bit of a hole to dig out of, but we'll be re-examining and re-inventing our life to adjust our priorities.

2 - Our 4-year-old is a 100% stay home kid. In the next 18 months or so she'll go to school and that will ease a great deal of pressure on Liz, I'm sure.

3 - We will both be engaging in individual therapy along with our continuing marriage counseling. Fortunately, my rather expensive health insurance covers this.
posted by Sock!Puppet! at 7:56 PM on May 5, 2009

God. I've been married for 2 years and there are days where I don't know if we'll make it much longer. To make it 13 years only to have it so childishly, thoughtlessly almost thrown away like it's nothing. Terrifying. I wish I had something helpful to tell you, but all I can really do is tell you that I hope for you (and for everyone in a serious, committed relationship who lets their heart rest in the hands of someone else) nothing but the best.
posted by Bageena at 8:31 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I disagree with Optimus Chyme about it not being on the cuckold to be the one fighting for the relationship.

I agree, there were joint decisions probably made by both about schooling for example, whether it reflects religious belief or academic thinking. However, most of the problems are exacerbated by one overarching behavior: one spouse needing a second job to support everyone with "the best." That is a very hard decision and one that usually comes after very bad planning. Schooling and its choice has to be calculated to an outcome and calculated in dollar totals over the short term. Schooling is a continuous expense that required inflows of capital regularly. I use the word 'capital' because some people will pay their kid's tuition before thinking about getting another car.

The OP has to think logically. First, I would ask for this post to be deleted. This was a really terrible idea in the first place. She will revisit this thread and so will you and it will grow confusion in your mind. Remember, parents come first. Happiness for you means a family of married people with kids. That's fine. Do that and live with the spoils, but don't spoil when you can't afford it. You can find the job you love to match the love you have and have both if you and your wife are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for your love of each other.

When I was 7, my parents moved with me and my three siblings to a two-bedroom apartment in Berkeley, California so they could rent out the house I was raised in to a French family. I was livid and angry and frustrated and worried we were suddenly poor. My mom would wake us up in the middle of the night to play Marco Polo. It was three years I will always look back on with disdain, but I'll never get it out of my mind. I realized later the reason for it was so force all of the rent-controlled tenants to move out.

To my parents, it was a calculated risk for their happiness. It meant a huge change in circumstance, friendships, reliances, movement, and capital even though we only moved a block away from the old house. For my parents, it was a calculated risk that offered enormous returns. They weighed every other option, including selling and moving to Oakland before they came to this. Others moved quickly and things didn't change and sometimes got worse, but for my parents it was the right thing to do to build the life they imagined.

One thing I smile at with my parents is the funny way my mom will say to other mothers, "If I had known how they were going to turn out, I wouldn't have worked so hard." I agree and I laugh and I tell her to be quiet. That's what kids do, they feel angry and then they feel OK and then they realize there are reasons parents did what they did and most of them have to do with being in a partnership.

Few take these steps. I am not confident you will. You are still dealing with the idea that you are a cuckold. I know I said it but for effect than for purpose. You were not cheated on, you are dealing with a person who is now so starved for attention she is open to any flirtation. She probably is doing the same thing to a lesser degree with the kid at the store who asks for her ID when she buys beer at the grocery store. But you would do the same with a girl at the coffee shop. It's human and it escalates because people don't accommodate their partners enough. It's easy for humans to get comfortable in even the worst situations. "Life will get better," they tell themselves. This is not true. I cannot think of a person in the world except in movies who have had their spouse deliver them from uncertain, squalid conditions in the middle of their marriage. Only if you win the lottery will this happen.

Let me repeat: your wife did not cheat on you. You made a joint decision about schools and then consequences appeared. You implemented a "solution" and left your wife to the "situation" without offering her a role or even considering whether you had made a bad decision in the first place to send two of your children to private school. Could you send one? Could you send the older one and let the middle child go to public school. She/He will always consider him/herself in the middle even if you have 17 more children. You cannot miss this opportunity a grave error you have subjected to yourselves.

For the sake of your marriage, you need to consider taking one child out of private school and into a better public school or established charter school with tuition tax credits or assistance. The day you do it, go leave for work, go to the pizza shop, ask for her favorite pizza and pick up your favorite thing to drink together, send the kids to your parents, come home, surprise her, and then do whatever she wants, even if it is fixing the dryer.

Eventually you will both have what you wanted in the first place. I realize how tough it can be but this is not about any kind of compromise for the both of you. It's about making a joint decision that as a family you can make the right decision to stay together.
posted by parmanparman at 9:45 PM on May 5, 2009

Sorry, I just read the Meta Talk thread about this post and I want to add:

Never bring up the situation that caused the strife or the strife itself ever again once you make a mutual decision to move past it. Don't live in the past.
posted by parmanparman at 9:53 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hello--this is Liz. I have been following this thread with Ryan's encouragement, and I am amazed at the thought that has been put into your responses. Thank you for your insights.

It was difficult for me to read the suggestions that I should get a job so Ryan would not have to work such long hours. I have been a stay-at-home-mom for over 10 years now. My addiction to the internet is my poor way of coping with feeling trapped in a job for which I am not cut out. Boredom, desperation, lack of adult contact, Ryan being my only adult friend--these are not my excuses, but a glimpse into my mindset that I am just beginning to see. I took a job with evening hours for awhile, but Ryan was miserable seeing me only in passing. That was two kids ago. More recently I worked part time from home, again evening hours. Ryan hated that I couldn't go to bed when he did. So now I don't work. Not being able to directly help our financial situation makes me hate myself. I just realized that tonight. Please discard the idea that I force Ryan to work his butt off to keep me in a nice house with a comfy standard of living. The only truth in that statement is that Ryan works his butt off.

The kids go to a non-traditional school. Rigorous academics is definitely not the focus for us. There is a good chance I will be homeschooling them in the fall. Another option is that I work at the school--I have already applied. Failing that, perhaps we should try to find a way to sell the house (ack) and move to a part of town where public school would be a better option. I agree completely that we have backed ourselves into a financial corner that is having devastating effects on our marriage. I am all for re-examining and re-inventing. Happy and poor is better than unhappy and...anything else. Couple time and family time have always been our highest priorities, in our hearts if not in practice.

For the record, Ryan was deployed overseas for 18 months, during which I was not tempted to have an affair. Jeff wasn't in my life then. It is clear to me that I need help putting that relationship to rest and dealing with that fallout. To be clear, the relationship is cut off. It was a hard lesson finding out how far it is from being "put to rest."

Many of you afforded me more compassion and benefit of the doubt than I try to claim for myself. Some of you have come down harder on Ryan's "snooping" than I am willing to. There are, indeed, underlying issues which must, must, *must* be addressed. The intense discussions between Ryan and me over the last week and a half have resulted in several major personal revelations. I need to begin working on these things NOW. Is that low cost or high cost? I have no idea. It will be very painful. It will take a good deal of time. It is a worthy investment. I think Ryan needs reassurance that I am up for it, that I will stick around for it, that I really want it, that I really want to be with him. I don't know how to give that to him. We have promised each other unrestricted open-book access to each other, including fessing up right away when temptation strikes. We have promised to provide safety for each other with whatever one needs to bring to the other. It is a good start, I think. Complete openness and safety are both concepts with which I am unfamiliar. That alone would have derailed our relationship eventually, affair or no affair. I am thankful to have a husband who loves me too much to simply toss me to the street, even after causing him such unimaginable pain and grief.

I hope that hearing from me helps you to understand our situation better. Again, I deeply appreciate all of you taking the time to help.
posted by Sock!Puppet! at 10:05 PM on May 5, 2009 [9 favorites]

Wow. Some Thread(s). I've been spending enough time reading it that I decided to give it my two cents.

High Cost Behaviors:

For Liz, cutting off all contact with Jeff. Complete transparency in your relationships with men, which means giving Ryan access to all your online accounts (not that Ryan would necessarily check) and including Ryan in any relationship you have with men. A good rule of thumb is to never do anything that you wouldn't do with your husband present. It doesn't mean he needs to be present, it just means that you show him that respect.

You also need to find a way to pitch in financially. Does that mean get a day job? Or home school the children? Or public school? I don't know. But your four year old is old enough for pre-school (or day care) and the older kids are in school so there's no reason for him to be working two jobs when you can be working too.

For Ryan: Trust your wife. Stop snooping. If you can't learn to trust her, the marriage will end, eventually or otherwise. You have the harder of the two tasks but even if you never snooped, you would still have to learn to trust her.

For both of you: Honest, open communication: Ryan if you had mentioned your misgivings about Jeff to Liz, or spoken to her about the growing online "affair" maybe it never comes to this. Liz, you need to tell Ryan why you wanted to do this. You both need to figure out what you need from the other.

As a child of divorce, I applaud your decision to stay together. I hope there's less drama in the future.
posted by cjets at 3:35 PM on May 6, 2009

You guys both sound like you're trying really hard, and I hope everything works out well. I'm sure it's not easy right now. Best of luck with the road ahead.
posted by salvia at 3:54 PM on May 6, 2009

I have been a stay-at-home-mom for over 10 years now. My addiction to the internet is my poor way of coping with feeling trapped in a job for which I am not cut out. Boredom, desperation, lack of adult contact...

There is a good chance I will be homeschooling [the kids] in the fall.

Whoa whoa WHOA! I'm all for homeschooling, but you are clearly the absolute wrong person to be thinking about taking on that job. Please, for your own sanity and the sake of your marriage, do not jump into homeschooling. Given what you've said about feeling trapped at home, isolated from adult contact, this would be the opposite of what you should probably be doing. Ryan needs to dump the pizza job and take on more of the parenting job, and you need to do something outside of the home several days a week. In fact, I'd say it probably doesn't matter whether your new outside-of-the-home activity earns you money or not; you just need to get out of there some more. Everyone needs a mental break sometimes.

I honestly wish the best of luck to both you and your husband, and hope the changes you'll be making in your lives will be ones that will relieve a lot of the stress and pain you've both been feeling.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:53 PM on May 6, 2009 [11 favorites]

If you don't have friends outside your immediately family, I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner. Fuck all this high cost low cost stuff, what you guys need is more time together, and to build relationships with other adults. Get out of the house regularly together, with and without the kids, and I'm sure things will start feeling better in no time.

I can't even imagine how hard it must be for you like this Liz. I know that with all of my married friends, I have dinners with them every week, sometimes a couple of times. I'm going to dinner with a bunch of friends tonight, then we're hitting Star Trek, there are 3 married couples (and a bunch of single dudes, of which I'm one), 3 kids and another on the way, and we do things like this all the time.

The stay at home mums all have support, they have mum groups where they get together with other stay at home parents for play dates and so on.

If I was in your position I think I'd be horrible depressed and absolutely craving attention.

Make friends. Get out of the house.
posted by The Monkey at 9:21 PM on May 6, 2009

Keep the keylogger and systems monitor going on the computer. It will make you feel SO much better to know that you can check and don't have to just worry about what's going on behind your back. That your wife would cut off all communication with the other man is a given.

I'd also ignore a lot of the comments where folks call high-cost behaviors "controlling". My guess is they haven't been cheated on and don't know how important that sort of sacrifice is.

Finally, having been cheated on myself (and found out by looking at their cell phone), it's a mystery to me why folks always bother equating snooping with cheating. The two are NOT the same. The emotional impact isn't the same, and the level of selfish intent isn't the same, either. It's a bizarre phenomena, but this thread isn't the first time I've seen such comments.
posted by timoni at 5:02 PM on May 8, 2009

I agree that homeschooling is a really bad idea.

Nontraditional schools can be really nice and welcoming and comfortable and helpful. Personally I wish every kid could have a Montessori-style education, but that's my flavor. Still and all, as someone who has worked with literally thousands of children in school environments, school is not as important as the family. It's simply not as powerful or profound an influence. Brilliant, happy people with a well-developed values system can come from every kind of school if their families are working together on giving them a life rich in thought and experience. Again, a public school option will most likely be fine if working at the school (great idea) doesn't work out.

There's a really simple rule in education. Kids without major impediments to learning (poverty, learning disabiilty, mental illness, neglect), from strong families that care about learning (or with mentors taking the same role) do fine in the end in any type of school. Kids without those resources are the ones at risk.
posted by Miko at 9:06 AM on May 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Breaking off contact with the other guy she was going to have sex with is not a high cost behavior. That's an absolute, mandatory, take or walk first step. Not seeing the guy she "shouldn't give head" is what she should have been doing in the first place, FFS.

As a child what should have been a divorce, please re-think any decision "stay together for the kids". Growing up in an loveless, adversarial home without trust is worse for kids than divorce. I recognize you want to stay together (though I'm sure this is a horrible decision), but please don't do it just for the kids.

For Ryan: Trust your wife.

Are you kidding? Do not trust your wife until she has earned that trust. She has shown herself to be untrustworthy. Maybe one day she can repair the damage and restore your faith and her, but it's absurd to think the best course of action is a reset. (And this is probably why you should divorce, you probably can't trust her. You can either ignore your doubts and always wonder, deep down, or you'll become controlling. The well is poisoned.)
posted by spaltavian at 8:03 PM on May 17, 2009

Response by poster: Hello, everyone. Ryan here. It's been several months now, and I finally feel like I'm prepared to give you all an update.

I'll begin at the end, as it were, and try to describe the several paths we've taken that led us here.

Liz and I are still married. We are both still in therapy. We are happier together now than we have ever been. We have come through this trial by fire and it has tempered us. We have spent countless hours in deep conversation. We have worked hard. We have discovered painful truths about ourselves and each other. We have recommitted to our future together. We have reinvented our life, and our marriage.

Some of the changes we made were pressed on us by outside circumstance. For instance:
  • I now work from home 2 days a week as part of a telecommuting pilot
  • Our private school made the decision not to let us re-enroll until past debts have been paid, which was entirely reasonable on their part. Liz then made the difficult and somewhat unsettling decision to homeschool our children. (That decision has been a complete, home run, amazing success.)
Some of the changes we made have been our own:
  • I have cut back my part time job to 2 nights a week, total of about 12 hours
  • We got rid of the television, and the giant entertainment center / stack of stereo gear that was dominating the living room
  • We escalated date night from a couple of stolen hours every other week or so to a scheduled, weekly event including time enough for both dinner and a movie if we so choose
Getting rid of the television, combined with homeschooling and me working from home 2 days a week has had an incredibly positive effect on our family. The kids are less argumentative with each other and with us, everyone is more patient and forgiving, we're all resting better... the list goes on. Given the absolute dreck that passes for programming these days, it was an easy decision to make and no regrets. Our two concessions to popular culture are (1) on some Saturday nights, we set the kids up with a computer to watch a movie and (2) I bought a USB TV tuner to watch on-air football broadcasts on Sundays on my laptop.

Some of the differences in our relationship have evolved organically. I have gone from not respecting her much at all (convinced of my own superior intellect, among other things - what an ass!) to surprised admiration of her skillful deception, to genuine appreciation of her as a person and partner.

Liz and I have committed to absolute disclosure in absolute safety, to speak our mind in the moment and not let tacit resentment build. We've asked ourselves and each other, what incentive exists for honesty if the reward is anger? When she felt compelled to reach back out to Jeff, she came to me instead and we talked about it. When I felt compelled to spy on her, I brought that to her and we talked about it. The impulse was born of habit more often than not, but we talked it through all the same. That conscious decision has over time become unconscious habit. It's still not perfect, but we get closer all the time.

The birth of new respect combined with the re-emergence of trust in our relationship has me more optimistic about our future than I have ever been. Those two elements alone have formed the bedrock of a new definition of marriage for us, and will see us through the rest of our life together.

To conclude, I want to make two things clear.

First, it has been difficult, even painful for me to learn what a dick I was in our early marriage. That discovery as much as anything has informed my determination to be a better person, a better husband and father. As I age I become more mellow, more likely to hold my peace, less likely to judge. I hesitate to call this the accumulation of wisdom, but it feels like a start.

Second, Liz and I have taken and continue to share equal responsibility for what happened between us. In the confined boundaries of a single event, The Affair, it seems easy to point to the faithful and the unfaithful partner, the betrayed and the betrayer. However, fairness requires that we zoom out a bit and take a larger view, and in that larger view the shared responsibility becomes clear to both of us.

Thank you all for your insight and energy. You have been a valuable resource for us in a very difficult time.
posted by Sock!Puppet! at 7:46 PM on September 15, 2009 [64 favorites]

Wow, I'm tearing up. So great. Continued happiness to you!!
posted by tristeza at 8:20 PM on September 15, 2009

That's great news, keep it up. Thanks for the update.
posted by The Monkey at 6:14 AM on September 16, 2009

Yeah, I think there must be smoke in this thread or something. (rubs eyes)

I am so happy you are working this out. I am very glad you are working things through, growing, and learning more about yourselves. It sounds like this is about the best possible thing that could have come out of this.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:40 AM on September 16, 2009

What an amazing coda. My very best to you, Liz, and your children, and thank you so much for taking the time to come back and let us know what happened.
posted by shiu mai baby at 7:02 AM on September 16, 2009

Wow, this was heartwarming. I'm so glad your family was able to work this out and even come out smiling at the end.
posted by misha at 7:39 AM on September 16, 2009

Glad I was wrong about the homeschooling. And glad you are doing so well. You've made some amazing changes. Best wishes to you both and your children, too!
posted by Miko at 5:57 PM on September 16, 2009

This rocks. Congratulations. Keep it up, you can do it--you two are stronger than many, I hope I can approach your strength in my life!
posted by dubitable at 9:27 AM on September 17, 2009

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