How do you save a marriage after an affair?
November 26, 2009 7:27 PM   Subscribe

My world is destroyed after an affair. I desperately need advice. Its a long story... Please help.

This is such a long story... I will try to keep it as short as possible.

My husband and I have been together for nearly 7 years. We just got married 3 months ago. About 4 years into our relationship I had something blindside me. A married man came on to me. Before I knew it, I was involved in an affair with not only this married man but another younger, single man as well. This went on for less than a year before I broke both of them off completely. Neither of the relationships were meaningful beyond a lust level.

I tried to carry on with my life like nothing happened and never told my bf. We got engaged 6 months later. He still had no idea. My guilt never really went away. I went on antidepressants. My personally was changing. It was killing me and us.

Then, six months after the engagement the truth started to come out in the form of rumors. Many of which were true but I continued to deny it. I told my fiance half truths thinking I was protecting him. I told him that I was having feeling with the younger guy but I never admitted anything sexual happened... I also completely denied that I had anything to do with the married man fearing that his family/young kids would be destroyed. In hind site I cant believe I ever committed such horrible acts. I had convinced myself it never happened.

I went on living a lie for a the entire next year. Several times I was asked if there was more to the story and I was always to scared to fess up. I went on with lie after lie. His fears were very founded and never subsided. I went through with the wedding, we bought a house. Three months later I cracked.

He was begging for the truth and I started to give it to him. He was so upset he left, made plans to move out and he wants this relationship to end. Here is my problem. I am so desperate to try and make this work, but I still am too scared to admit the whole truth. I know he will go to the married mans wife and I am so afraid that I have done enough damage and dont want anyone else to feel this hurt. I am really guilty and so so ashamed. I cant stand the idea of how this additional information will hurt my husband. I know I am in the wrong but still want to save my relationship. What should I do???
posted by wantstobeadesigner to Human Relations (53 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Does he actually still want any more details, or did he leave because he has heard enough?

If the former, then the thing is, IMO, you will *never* have a healthy relationship with him unless you stop all lying and tell him the truth. So regardless of whether it saves your relationship or not, you don't lose anything by doing it.

As far as the married man's kids getting hurt, if there are already rumors, that means people already know. I don't see how you telling your husband the truth will change that.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:40 PM on November 26, 2009

Read these. As many as you can bear to.

I have never been on your side of the equation, but was on the other in a past relationship. All I can say is to tell the whole truth, every bit of the ugly and nasty truth. The "trickle truth," where you admit to a little bit, but still cover up the rest, then later admit a little bit more, still covering up more, etc. etc. is SO MUCH WORSE. I went through being exposed to trickles of truth for years, and every single time another piece of the puzzle was revealed, I had to go through all the pain and agony again. I was never able to fully deal with what my partner had done -- there was always one more secret, one more lie to be exposed. Don't put your husband through this.

Confess everything. Tell it all in one fell swoop. Soldier through your shame, your guilt, your pain. You CAN make it work. Your marriage can survive. It can.

But I don't think any relationship can survive vows of utmost honesty while still hiding things. Every time a tiny trickle of truth comes out after that, it makes every promise of honesty beforehand totally empty. You can ruin your marriage that way, and if you choose that path, you almost certainly will.

Tell him everything. You can do it. You're not a bad person. Show your strength and take the steps to make this right.
posted by srrh at 7:40 PM on November 26, 2009 [20 favorites]

I think your marriage is probably not salvageable. It seems to me that his trust in you is eroded completely (as would many people's trust in this instance), and that's nearly impossible to recover from because it just eats away at people. He may be telling the other man's wife to be vindictive, but I suspect not: a lot of people feel morally uncomfortable keeping that once they know about it and there are STD and other concerns to be worked out. Start making plans for starting over. You've done him wrong, by a pretty large margin, and it's almost worse emotionally to be the atoning party (you) than the offended party (him) in the aftermath of this sort of thing.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:40 PM on November 26, 2009 [7 favorites]

Yes, the additional information is probably going to hurt your husband.

But you continuing to lie to him would hurt him way more. You are not protecting him. Don't kid yourself.

For the same reason, but from a purely selfish perspective: telling the truth is also your best bet if you really want to save this thing.

I appreciate (and believe) that you deeply regret what you have done. But so long as you keep lying about it, you are continuing to do it. You stop creating additional regret the moment you come 100% clean. Yes, you fucked this one up. If you want a chance in hell at forgiveness, then stop fucking it up. Immediately.

There is no magic solution here. You say that you know you are in the wrong, and it sounds like you know what the right thing is. So do it. It will be difficult and painful. From the sound of it, it'll hurt like a goddamn motherfucker. Do it anyway, because it's the right thing and because it's the best thing for both of you. There's exactly one way to get through this firestorm, and that's to stand up and walk through it.

Best of luck to both of you.
posted by ixohoxi at 7:41 PM on November 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am sorry to have to say this, but if your husband wants to leave you, there is nothing more you can do. If you aren't both committed to working things out and to being together, your marriage is over.

I suggest you get some counselling to help you cope with the end of your marriage, with making peace with what you have done, and to make sure you resolve the issues that made you act this way so you'll be more responsible going forward.
posted by orange swan at 7:42 PM on November 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

"I had something blindside me."
"a married man came on to me."
"Before I knew it, I was involved"

I am so desperate to try and make this work, but I still am too scared to admit the whole truth. I know he will go to the married mans wife and I am so afraid that I have done enough damage and dont want anyone else to feel this hurt. I am really guilty and so so ashamed. I cant stand the idea of how this additional information will hurt my husband. I know I am in the wrong but still want to save my relationship.

This relationship might end, or it might not, but I think you need to first be upfront with yourself about your agency and your involvement. You are writing this as if you were a third party, merely watching these things happen. Now that you've told him, you should do so fully and openly, and explain to him the way that you felt and acted then and the way that you feel and plan to act now.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:46 PM on November 26, 2009 [71 favorites]

Five years ago I was blindsided by an unfaithful wife and am just now beginning to put my life back together. Having an unfaithful partner is about the worst thing you can imagine - the floor drops out from under you and all of your traditional beliefs about love and trust are shattered. After uncovering evidence of the first affair, I dug up information about a second one six months previously (which she vehemently denied until I turned up the goods), but by that time, my love and trust was completely shot and separation and divorce quickly followed.

It is not going to be an enjoyable time for either of you. I was nearly insane for several months -- suicide attempt, etc. -- and did many things I now regret. At least now I live with the knowledge that nothing can hurt me any worse than my marriage being destroyed.

As for your husband confronting the married man's wife, I'll have to defer to the wisdom of other Metafilter members, but in my raging, wounded state, I would have had no qualms whatsoever about informing a woman about her husband's philandering in an ill-justified means of spreading my pain around.

Start with Surviving Infidelity and couples counseling. Good luck to the both of you.
posted by porn in the woods at 7:48 PM on November 26, 2009 [7 favorites]

You cheated on him before, multiple times. Why wouldn't you do it again?

Not to pile on but I don't see how any good can come from this marriage. You'd both be better off starting over with people you've been completely honest with.
posted by bardic at 7:54 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

With as much gentleness and kindness as is possible, I have to say just move on with your separate lives. Your husband could, perhaps, be cajoled to take you back, but he will never trust you again. As much as it may hurt to accept, this is a part of your life that is over.

Take ownership of your past. Set aside the next five to ten years (at least) to think about the harm that you have caused--to yourself, your husband, your lover's wife, your respective families. It's a long, hard, and lonely road ahead, but you'll learn a lot.

Don't hurt your husband any more, though. Let him be, if he wants to go.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:12 PM on November 26, 2009 [6 favorites]

If I have the math right, you ended both the affairs over two years ago, and your partial telling of the truth has happened quite recently. Based on that, I would say this:

First, his initial reaction might not be his final decision. That's a very hurtful revelation, especially just three months into your marriage. In addition to the pain that always comes with these things, there's also the resentment that you didn't tell him before the wedding, so he could make an informed commitment. Yet even with all that, seven years is a long time to be together, and there are obviously a lot of positives in your relationship. After a cooling off period, he may decide to try to make your marriage last. I don't want you to have unrealistically high hopes, but it's early to give up all hope. Let him have some time to get over the immediate shock.

Second, I agree with the people who say that the whole truth needs to come out--if that's what he wants. At some point in your conversations with him, you need to offer to tell him as much as he wants to know. In these situations, I think it's usually best to say "I will answer any question you have with complete honesty." That lets him set the parameters. It's not unusual for the cheated-on partner to want to know who, how long did it go on and when did it end, but to want to stay ignorant of the details beyond that. Be careful not to volunteer information he'd rather not have.

As a side note: You can't afford to be protective of the married man's family. He chose to cheat on his wife, and he may have to deal with the consequences just as you are. It's regrettable, but his offensive was even bigger than yours, and you can't afford to fall on your sword to spare him.

Third, if you can afford it, you need a counselor right away, and you'll need a separate couples counselor if he agrees to make this work. You need to work on the issues that led you into those two affairs to begin with, and you need someone to help you think wisely about how to try to save your marriage now.

I'm sorry that you are going through this. There's no way to get through the next steps without a lot of emotional pain. Honesty, openness, apologies, and expressions of your sincere love for your husband are your best pathway now. I hope that he is able to listen.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:13 PM on November 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

Fifteen years ago I was in your husband's shoes. Maybe I think of the situation with a bit less rancor than when it was fresh, now. What doesn't go away is the feeling of betrayal. I can honestly think of nothing my ex-wife could have done to fix it, and I know I am much better off having left.

I feel the remains of the situation when anyone says they want to protect me. I don't need protection and I'm fairly wary of being managed.

You've hurt your husband, badly. The relationship will never again be what he thought it was, even if recovering it works for you. Let go, now.
posted by jet_silver at 8:21 PM on November 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

You cheated on him before, multiple times. Why wouldn't you do it again?

No, this is a fallacy. Shit happens. Your past does not (not getting into philosophical issues here) determine your future.

You need to be totally honest with your husband. That way, you'll both feel better. Whether or not your marriage survives depends on him and you and your willingness to work through it. But no matter what, you've just got to come totally clean.

Now, sexual monogamy is hard, and I'm not of the school that having sex with someone else = not being able to have a loving relationships any longer with your SO. Make sure your husband knows you want to save your marriage. Humans are complicated, and an understanding of that is really, really important.

As far as the whole 'the relationship won't ever again be what it was." Yes, of course that's true. But it doesn't really mean anything. Marriage can span many, many years - and it won't ever be the same from one day to the next. Marriage takes work, and obstacles and the like will face you at every corner. This could simply be one, but you've also got to make a personal commitment that you're not going to hurt your husband like this again. If you think you might, then this marriage is not right for you.

Good luck.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:30 PM on November 26, 2009 [7 favorites]

How is the right answer in any way difficult to see? Tell you husband the truth, all of it. He deserves it. It's his decision if he wants to stay with you afterwards.
posted by whiskeyspider at 9:23 PM on November 26, 2009

but I think you need to first be upfront with yourself about your agency and your involvement.

It's all right here. Own your part of the puzzle/problem/process. Make no excuses (other than your humanity). Come clean. The various pieces will fall where they may ... same as it ever was.
posted by philip-random at 10:54 PM on November 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you're well aware that continuing the charade is not an option.

Telling the truth (all of it) is scary, because it seems like it will probably make him leave.

I don't know if you'll stay together or not, but I do know that the only possible way this will work is if you tell him everything, now.
posted by twirlypen at 11:00 PM on November 26, 2009

as optimus chyme says, you can't and won't salvage any of this until you start owning up to your involvement, your choices, your decisions. you carried on not one, but two affairs - this isn't a situation of "oops! i tripped and fell into bed with him!".

if you and your husband work it out is completely in his court. i don't know how you'd even let him consider it without the benefit of utter honesty. you made vows and bought a house together, knowing full well that you had betrayed him, horribly, multiple times. you also knew that he had your number, and yet you used love and security as tools against him while lying to his face. if you can't even face up now, then why do you deserve to be in this marriage?

as for your married man exlover? my opinion there differs from a lot of people - you are only responsible for your vows, your commitments, and your family. you can show some compassion and empathy and not go mess is someone else's garden, but your partner in crime is responsible for his vows. it's an old cliche, but a good one - he made his bed. you could give him the benefit of a heads up, but you don't owe him further loyalty. in fact, if your loyalty is to him and his family at the expense of yours, well, i'd question your whole premise of it was just hormones and lust.
posted by nadawi at 11:17 PM on November 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

About 4 years into our relationship I had something blindside me. A married man came on to me. Before I knew it, I was involved in an affair with not only this married man but another younger, single man as well.

You are caught in a web of karma. You continue to try and avoid the consequences of your actions. The karma is painful because you fear feeling the full extent of the pain you've created.

But there is a solid fact about the universe--we cannot avoid the consequences of our actions. So you must do the opposite of what you have been doing and allow the karma to ripen.

This means you will have to be honest with your husband. And you must take the consequences. Let me be honest--it most likely means that your marriage to this man is over. It is possible that it might recover, but the odds are not with you.

Having said that, you have a lot more work to do. First, you have been more than dishonest with your husband, you've been dishonest with yourself. You have told yourself that you didn't do this--that this or that man was responsible, that you were blindsided, that the affair is destroying your marriage. This is not true. You have taken these actions. Your language shows a strong instict to avoid responsibility because of a desperate need to avoid the difficult emotions that go along with this. You will be highly likely to repeat your actions either with your husband or another man unless you learn what drove you to hurt the people you love the way that you did. When human beings make mistakes, they repeat them because the reasons behind the mistakes remain until they see the light of day.

You will need therapy to learn about why you did this--and it will be hard, because we usually conduct ourselves like this because something is bothering us which we desperately don't want to deal with. Until this is fixed, you are likely to engage in self-destructive behavior again.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:26 PM on November 26, 2009 [16 favorites]

Your past does not (not getting into philosophical issues here) determine your future.

If anon continues to insist that her past "just happened", as though it was getting rear-ended in a car park, then I would be willing to bet it's a pretty good predictor of her future. Honesty starts inside your own head.
posted by rodgerd at 11:40 PM on November 26, 2009 [23 favorites]

If you're worried about losing your nerve when telling him, you should write everything down first. Then you can read from that.

Nothing is worse then not knowing if a person is being honest. It's like, you can never know if what they are saying is true. Invariably, people feel that they are mostly honest so it can be very frustrating to be with someone who you never know is telling the truth (or whatever).

If you tell someone X, and then they find out X is a lie, and you tell them Y and they find out Y is a lie and so on, each time they'll trust you less and less. That's why it's best to be completely honest and up front right away.

Also, people deal with affairs without getting divorced all the time. It certainly sucks, but you can make it work better. Couple's therapy might be a good way for you to help build trust and be more honest.
posted by delmoi at 11:54 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

You cheated on him before, multiple times. Why wouldn't you do it again?

Whatever you do, please don't believe this.

I personally despise the notion of "once a ___, always a _____." Every person on this earth has the capacity of doing good things and doing bad things. And every person on this earth does both throughout their lives, to varying degrees.

You've made it clear that you've done very bad things - you've cheated twice and lied about it for a long time, which has hurt your husband and yourself and others greatly.

The road to forgiveness will be long and hard. It's possible your husband will not want you back and depending on who he is, he might the sort who will not be able to ever forgive. Whatever happens will be revealed in time and I agree with the people above who have suggested you be as open and truthful and cooperative as possible, but only if he wants to hear it. That's the only thing you can do at this point, unless he is willing to go further (such as therapy).

The road to forgiving yourself will also be long and hard, but you can and will get through it in time. For months your mind will probably be filled with the memories and consequences of these bad things that you have done, but it's important to frequently remind yourself that you always have the capacity to do good things too and as you move forward in your life, put as much effort and focus as you can into doing those good things.

And of course, as people have mentioned, the first good thing you can focus on doing from here on out is being 100% truthful with your husband whenever you communicate with him. Do not lie to him or withhold more information from him if he wants to know, because you are scared of hurting him more. If you keep up with this lying he will still find out and then that will hurt even more....the sooner you tell him (again if he wants to hear it) the sooner he will feel the pain and be able to start healing and moving on from it.
posted by Squee at 12:35 AM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

You know the only thing worse than cheating on a partner? Lying about it. For years.

Your marriage probably cannot be saved, and it should not be saved. If you think it will help your husband to have all the details, than give them to him, but don't do it to try to save the relationship.
posted by Happydaz at 1:00 AM on November 27, 2009 [6 favorites]

Having been (almost) in your husband's shoes, I can see why he wants to walk away from it. Hell, he might not even WANT to walk away from it but feels he has to (as I did). When you find out one part of your relationship was a lie it makes you question the entire thing, the entire relationship and your history together loses its value and it hurts like hell. My ex insisted that he loved me but as far as I'm concerned he never did, or may as well not have, I will never have any way of knowing what was real because he's proven that he can't be trusted or taken on his word - once the trust is broken I don't think it can be restored.

I still have no idea how anyone can do something that would so deeply hurt someone they claim to love, and his wanting to work things out with me just seemed to me like for him love=want, whereas for for me love=first and foremost I want to take care of you.

These things don't just happen, they're a choice and one's choices reflect one's values. If you are serious about making things work your only choice is to prove to him that you've worked on your issues and understand why you did it (rather than saying it just happened) - and then see if he's williing to stick around. But please, give him your blessing to walk away.
posted by Chrysalis at 2:50 AM on November 27, 2009 [6 favorites]

This may or may not be helpful to you, but it's worth a shot:

A long mostly happy update to a long difficult AskMe thread

Good luck.
posted by magstheaxe at 3:14 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a stern look for all the judgmental statements here. Listen to the ones suggesting practical work you can do. You are not an axe murderer. You made a mistake and you have work to do. No matter what you still have your good qualities. The good you have done in your life has still been done. You still have the capacity for enjoyment and to be good to yourself. No matter what you should still be good to yourself - enjoy holidays; sunshine; friends; good music. Your life will continue and you still have the capacity for all of the wonder of life. You are not a devil or a throwaway person. Remember this, always, as you take your decisions. Note that there is disagreement about whether to try to save your marriage or not - only you and your husband can decide that. Remember to build in rewards and pleasure for yourself in your life no matter what. You deserve and need it to go forward.

My best wishes are with you and an offer of a listening ear any time.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:57 AM on November 27, 2009 [18 favorites]

While infidelity can cause irreparable harm to a relationship, it is the lying that ultimately destroys the bonds we have. I also don't believe that one or two bad acts makes a bad person or a repeat offender, but this isn't one or two bad acts. You lied to your husband repeatedly. Every time he asked you about this and you denied, dodged, or told half-truths, was a betrayal. Each time you convinced him, you also made him doubt himself, his friends, and proved you were not only capable of misleading him, but he was also capable of being misled. I understand you were afraid and did not want to lose your partner, but by deceiving him repeatedly and with ample time to reflect on your choices and come clean, and taking vows before doing so, you probably have done just that.

Even now, you are not being fully truthful with him or yourself. Recognizing and admitting your own agency to yourself, nevermind your spouse, is huge. Until you do that, you can't hope for forgiveness or reconciliation. No one needs the explicit details (he touched me there, I dressed up like that, etc.), but the basic truth of the situation is usually appreciated by those who are pleading for the truth. Honestly, though, I don't know that this is something anyone can get past.

I believe in forgiveness. I believe that while we never forget and can have emotional recall of exactly how we felt when we were wronged, we can also choose to move past something, and decide that even though we were betrayed and deeply hurt, that does not change the fact that we love that person or want to be with them, and that is what we call forgiveness. For that to happen, however, the hurt has to be an aberration, and not a pattern of behavior. This has gone on too long and too often for your husband to think of it this way. Even if he chose to stay with you, I think you would be miserable. You being crushed by your own guilt and self-loathing, him grappling with his resentment and his self-worth is just a recipe for unhappiness. Apologize, learn what you can from this, and let him go. Maybe someday you will have the chance to make amends, but for now, he needs to move on, and so do you. Good luck.
posted by katemcd at 4:09 AM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

By The Grace of God:
You sound like a self help book, suggesting her that she should nurture herself no matter what. In general, don't you think people should suffer a little for their wrongdoing , pay the price? She has already realized that what she has done to him is wrong, feeling guilty, desperately wanting him back. It would worry me if she continues to enjoy the life immediately as you described without going through the way she is right now.
posted by neworder7 at 4:27 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nurture is the only way to self betterment.
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:37 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

That is true, I agree. Should everybody aim for 'self betterment'? I think unconditionally nurturing oneself would doubly offend the victim (in this case, the husband).
I think one should suffer if they are at the wrong, it is healthier , first step to the "self betterment".
posted by neworder7 at 4:50 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for all the advice. Many of your suggestions I already knew deep in my heart. I am going to tell my husband everything he wants to know. I had already made that decision before I even posted this thread. Just because I know it has to happen doesn't make it any easier. I was looking for advice on both sides of the table on how to deal with the consequences of my actions, and I got it.

I don't expect him to stay but in time I hope he can forgive. I hope I can forgive. This is only the first step... I refuse to let go of that hope.

I need to understand why and how I could hurt someone I loved so deeply. The notion that I never really loved him in the first place is complete bullshit. I huge piece of me will forever love him. I feel like a very young, very lost soul. This experience is one that has taught me a lesson 1,000 future lifetimes could never cause me to forget. Im just sorry it had to hurt so many other people in the process. I am so deeply sorry.
posted by wantstobeadesigner at 4:53 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You have to lay it all on the line and see what happens. That's kind of what has to happen in relationships regardless of any big drama; that's what intimacy means. You can't try to control the outcome.

Therapy might help, for both of you singly and collectively. Part of the thing that's a concern is that you don't seem to know why the affairs happened. Figuring that out is something you have to do--you need to be able to explain that to him and yourself (boredom, lack of affection, etc.), otherwise you can't address it.

And, however crappy you feel, he feels worse. Plus he probably knows more is coming, so it's a particular type of torment. So be up front with him about the whole truth as soon as possible.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:07 AM on November 27, 2009

First, i am not a therapist or any sort of medical professional.

There has been some talk about agency in this thread, and I think it's relevant. But! A sense of agency can't be bought, or made from whole cloth. This will need to be addressed in therapy.

I'd also bet that your locus of control is more external than internal, based on your statement that something happened to you, as well as your fear that if you tell your husband the whole truth that will cause him to leave.

Locus of control issues can also be worked on in therapy. But first, I hope you can find a therapist who can and will guide you through these concepts.

I sense that you understand, intellectually, how all of this happened. But gaining an emotional understanding of the process will help you forgive yourself and prevent you from making the choices that got you to this dark place.

You are lovable, and you have the capacity to do great things in the world. I'm sure you'll find a path through this.
posted by bilabial at 5:56 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's hard to tell from reading text on a website, but the tone of your comments strikes me as overly-dramatic and possibly self-loathing. While I understand that's probably par for the course considering the situation you are working through,.. I hope you realize there is little benefit to beating yourself up about this. People make mistakes in their lives - sometimes mistakes that take years to recover from. That's part of being human. And while some people might expect you to be penitent for a certain amount of time, I'd be of the opinion that your energy and resources are better spent being introspective and taking the things you learn about yourself to make concrete positive change in your life. (I don't see any indication of how old you are.. so advice may be different if you are 27 versus 47...) The less time you wallow, the more time you can spend constructively rebuilding and the faster you'll come out of this a better person.
posted by jmnugent at 7:15 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

So... the question is, "how do you save a marriage after an affair?" If you can convince your husband that it really, really meant nothing, that you feel destroyed that you ever did this, that you will never ever do it again, that you love him more than life, that you will do anything, change your life in any way necessary to a) not ever, ever do it again, b) convince and reassure him that you are truly speaking from the bottom of your heart, etc. ... there's a chance he could relent.

I did relent, and in my case, it meant that I wasted another four years when I should have left for good the first time. Because... oops! he did it again.

I know you feel like your world is coming to an end now, and I believe you really do love your husband. I believe that you believe that this was just some crazy inexplicable thing, and that if only your husband will forgive there's no chance of anything like this happening again. But time goes by, years (or months) pass, and whatever it was that poked you (no pun!) into doing the first time is very likely to come up again. So whether he takes you back or not, you need to work out and understand what was driving you. If he takes you back, and you resolve that question (via therapy, probably), then there's a chance that the marriage will be actually be saved in the long-term. But if you don't identify the impetus for you to do what you did, you may just be prolonging and deepening the pain (and ultimate emotional and psychological scarring) for your husband as you later end up repeating this scenario again. And then going through the same torturous cycle again and again with new partners.

(This is beyond the scope of this question, but its also possible you might just be happier and more natural in an open relationship. It's perfectly within reason to find a fulfilling relationship in which both parties are dedicated to each other, yet agree that they will also see other people. You don't necessarily have a "problem" that has to be fixed, but if you hurt and betray the one you are supposed to love, this is obviously a problem.)
posted by taz at 8:30 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You waited a couple of months until after marrying the guy, and getting a house together, to drop this? That's some convenient timing. A few months before and he would have had the opportunity to leave scott-free. Now (depending on the state) you've got legal rights to some of his property. And he didn't even do anything wrong.

If you want to prove what a stand-up gal you are, be sure to tell the judge everything you tell him.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:34 AM on November 27, 2009 [17 favorites]

People are attracted to more than one person at a time. You're a perfectly normal human being who has no reason to feel any shame.

This is half-right. It is totally normal to feel attracted to others while in a relationship. The problem isn't the attraction, its the acting on it when you promised not to.

What's wrong with this is it fails to acknowledge that a promise was made. It acts as if a promise means nothing. It acts as if it is OK to just go back on your word and do what you want because it makes you feel good temporarily.


A promise is what a relationship is built on. Some people may have different sets of promises--they can be in any sort of open relationship they like. But the key is that both partners are fully informed and fully on board.

Not fulling informing and not keeping your promises are not the way to carry on any relationship, open or monogamous. It is calling taking advantage. And if taking advantage becomes OK, then it leads to killing, stealing and all the rest. Those who cannot acknowledge this are headed for problems, problems that their denial cannot prevent. Your denial did not prevent it in your case, as is so obvious.

It is very important that you are able to distinguish between these things. Perhaps an open relationship is for you. Perhaps your husband would be OK with that, perhaps not. But acting like it is ok to break a promise with someone you care deeply about is wrong. One can ask to be released from their promise--but until they break it off or renegotiate, it is wrong to break that promise.

Beware of any answer that claims that only their way of addressing the issue of monogamy v. open relationships is the right way. A narrow focus on the fact of mutual attraction and the assumption that it is OK not to keep a promise is wrong, morally and ethically. There is no duty to buy into any relationship structure of any kind. But there is a moral duty to tell the truth and keep our promises. Ignoring that duty puts you in a very difficult position and hurts you more than the other person.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:36 AM on November 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

I hope I can forgive.

Forgive whom? Yourself?

Don't. You haven't even taken responsibility for what you did, you're nowhere near forgiving yourself. I honestly doubt you ever really loved him; not because you cheated on him, but because you had two long-term affairs and then totally reject your agency in the matter.

People, good people, can mess up. Someone in love can get drunk and screw around, or fall for someone else and mess around a little bit before they realize what they're doing. But afterwards, they feel terrible because of what they know they did. They feel shame, even if they deny to their partner what they did. Because they accept that it's their fault internally. You held two long term affairs- that's not a mistake, it's a choice, and then you act as if you were struck by lightning. You don't really acknowlege that you betrayed your husband, and hence, you'll probably do it again. You feel shame because you got caught, not because you did this to someone you love.

If you contiune to lie, he'll know and he'll leave you. If you admit everything, he'll realize the depth of your betrayal and almost certainly leave you. So the choice is between no chance and a very, very slim one.

This isn't some misguided "honesty is the best policy" platitude. If you really wanted to make your marriage work, you should have never told him anything and vowed to not betray him ever again. But now he'll never trust you, and he'll have to know everything so he doesn't feel you're still making a fool out of him.

But do keep in mind, he'll never trust you. You didn't make the occasional dalliance or the drunken error. Every time he goes to work, he'll wonder if you're fucking someone else at home. Every time you go out with your "friends" he'll wonder if you're actually meeting another man. Every time.

As usual, ignore Zambrano. He's more interested in making a tired jab at "American" piety then giving you realistic advice. If you were in an open or poly relationship, your husband wouldn't have a problem and you wouldn't feel bad. You should feel guilty. You should feel ashamed. If you didn't, there would be a 0% chance at making your marriage work, rather than a 5% chance. What you did and how you react to it has complete and total bearing on your marriage.
posted by spaltavian at 9:52 AM on November 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

OP, you have a few basic issues here to address. First, you had long, ongoing affairs with two different partners, which you covered up for years and are still lying to your partner about. Second, you sought anti-depressant treatment to fix shame, guilt, and fear (of discovery and abandonment). Third, not only have you lied to your husband and apparently at least one medical provider, you have lied to your social support network and, most importantly, to yourself. Fourth, as others have pointed out, you tell this story as if you had no agency, as if you did not make the choices that got you to this point.

You need to come clean to your husband and to yourself, no ifs, ands, or buts. You will probably lose him, but even if you don't, he will never be able to trust you again he way he did before your web of lies started to untangle. If your husband is willing to consider moving on with you, the two of you need couples therapy. You need therapy, to deal with your abandonment issues and lack of agency as well as the driving force behind your infidelity. You need to make amends to your support network, before you find you've lost them. It took a long time for you to build a situation this messy, and it's going to take a long time to undo what can be undone and build anew. There are no shortcuts.

I have a stern look for all the judgmental statements here. Listen to the ones suggesting practical work you can do. You are not an axe murderer. You made a mistake and you have work to do.

I know an axe-murderer, and can tell you he never cheated on a girlfriend or spouse. Killed one, yes, but didn't cheat. Different people make different mistakes, and that does not excuse them for their culpability for what they did do. You can look stern all you like; the OP committed huge, multi-year betrayals of trust and abuse of goodwill and does not get a "get out of jail free" card just because some other imagined scenario could have been worse.
posted by notashroom at 11:27 AM on November 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

Ok...I'll chime in here.This thread was from me a year and 1/2 ago. From my perspective it's the lack of honesty that is what is hurting your spouse the most. I ended but getting divorced and after much counseling I'm a much happier person today. For me it was painful but important to realize that it really wasn't my fault. People do things that are not always well thought out and can be very selfish without thinking about the impact on their life as a whole. It is really on you to tell him everything....and I do mean everything. He is angry and that may subside after a while. But only if you tell him the complete truth is there any chance of rescuing this. I have moved on and am actually friends with my ex, but only after we both got brutally honest with each other did my hurt/anger actually begin to subside. If you want any chance of saving this relationship then the complete truth is your only hope. As others said before if there are already rumors surrounding the married man it won't be a total shock if your husband decides to tell his wife. I personally think that is probably just his anger speaking and he probably won't actually do so. Tell all and soon...there is no other path.
posted by white_devil at 11:45 AM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

You know the only thing worse than cheating on a partner? Lying about it. For years.

That is a birufication of reality and a cheap shot. The fact that the poster is looking for help in understanding the complementary angle of this situation is something to respect. The OP is starting on a long and painful trip if the OP wants to quit the melodrama the OP has created in the OP's life.

But only if the OP quits referring to life's experiences as if the rest of us are bit players in some giant movie starring the OP. This shit ain't episodes, it is the multitude of everyone's experiences that you are changing with your actions.

And although your actions in the past don't guarantee your actions in the future, everyone will begin to use them as a set of rails to judge you upon.

And past experience isn't just experience, it is learning. You are learning how to cheat every time you do it.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:54 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am sorry to have to say this, but if your husband wants to leave you, there is nothing more you can do. If you aren't both committed to working things out and to being together, your marriage is over.

Yes. My marriage ended for different reasons, but I was in your position of being totally desperate and willing to do anything to save it... problem is, when it's over, it's over.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:28 PM on November 27, 2009

It's over and it's all your fault*, and even if there is a faint chance that it might be salvaged I suggest that you shouldn't be trusted and he's better off without you because you've cheated repeatedly, lied about it, and refused to admit it when confronted.

Start fresh with yourself, and then someone else, because you've done enough to this poor guy.

*Cheating on your boyfriend with not one but two people and believing that you are the victim of the circumstances means you have a hard time accepting the responsibility of your actions, let alone the consequences.
posted by furtive at 3:26 PM on November 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

P.S. What's in it for him?
posted by furtive at 3:27 PM on November 27, 2009

Response by poster: The last 3 days since the first half truths have come out I have spent alone in self reflection. Through this thread, a lot of reading, and a lot of soul searching, I finally made peace with what is right and what I had to do. I finally admitted the truth to myself about what happened and that it was time to take responsibility for my actions.

I told him everything he wanted to know. All of it. 100% truth.

He got extremely angry (rightfully and expectedly so)... Burnt every photo and memory in the house. Broke a few things. Cried. Told me I was dead to him. He wished me a very unhappy life one in which I suffer and never find love again. He wants a divorce. Pronto. He promised that I if don't give him everything he wants he will drag this out in a long painful court battle. He expressed his thoughts of me (ugly, whore, slut etc.)

I swallowed my pain and suffering, remained calm, and tried to express my heart felt remorse with out excuses or self-loathing. I told him I know that this hurts, but I had no other choice than to be 100% honest. I expressed my guilt and told him I understood I had to take accountability for my actions. I didn't push anything on him and didn't beg for his forgiveness. I told him that if he wanted to go I would understand. He said good because he wants out asap so he can start over.

He then packed up a few more things and left...

I am only 27 years old but I have never felt such pain and guilt in all my life. I hope to god this is the worst thing I will ever have to deal with. I have never experienced death until this moment. I have no idea what I have to do next. I am so concerned for him. I am responsible for the worst pain and suffering I could ever cause another human being. The hardest part was seeing him hurt and not being able to comfort him... I wanted to run to him, hold him and tell him it will be alright. I don't even know that it will be alright....
posted by wantstobeadesigner at 7:02 PM on November 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh, man. I'm so sorry.
posted by tristeza at 7:04 PM on November 27, 2009

I have never experienced death until this moment.

You haven't experienced death, and making a woe-is-me-story out of the consequences of your actions won't help you. I don't mean that in a hurtful way; what you need is therapy, not self-pity. As much as possible, stop being melodramatic -- you cheated and lied, then told the truth, and the other person was justifiably angry. Your pain and suffering are expected. So are his. Certainly recognize them, but don't hang everything you are on those feelings; what you can do is begin to work on changing yourself to avoid future deceptions.

There are two ways out of this: the default decision route, in which you let events happen to you over the coming weeks, and the pro-active approach in which you seek therapy and unravel whatever happened with the assistance of someone who will aid you without judging you.
posted by ellF at 8:46 PM on November 27, 2009 [17 favorites]

regardless of your past decisions and whatever further commentary may spill out here, what you just did required a profound courage unique to your situation. Know this, and own it. You'll know doubt need more of this courage as you move forward.

Good luck. You're starting to deserve it.
posted by philip-random at 9:04 PM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm really sorry. Please take By The Grace of God's comment to heart. It will be hard but forgive yourself; you deserve it.
posted by lmm at 10:20 PM on November 27, 2009

I am only 27 years old but I have never felt such pain and guilt in all my life. I hope to god this is the worst thing I will ever have to deal with. I have never experienced death until this moment. I have no idea what I have to do next. I am so concerned for him. I am responsible for the worst pain and suffering I could ever cause another human being. The hardest part was seeing him hurt and not being able to comfort him... I wanted to run to him, hold him and tell him it will be alright. I don't even know that it will be alright.

He'll be fine. You'll be fine. Eventually. I know that this is difficult for you, and for him, but you will both get through this. I'm sorry.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:51 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am responsible for the worst pain and suffering I could ever cause another human being. The hardest part was seeing him hurt and not being able to comfort him... I wanted to run to him, hold him and tell him it will be alright. I don't even know that it will be alright....

I'm sorry to hear about the ugliness your husband displayed. I was guilty of some of that myself when my ex-wife was cheating, but that's par for the course with a wounded human in this situation. I've been in your husband's shoes, and going out and having sex with random men is the most painful thing you can inflict on a spouse. In retrospect, I'd rather my ex-wife had carved me up with vinegar-soaked razor blades than had done this sort of thing - but I'm still alive, 5 years later, after the worst pain I've ever felt. I still don't know if I will ever be able to love again, but I'll keep working on that. Get into therapy as soon as possible. Eventually, you will be able to live once again.

My sympathies.
posted by porn in the woods at 1:07 AM on November 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

I am only 27 years old but I have never felt such pain and guilt in all my life. I hope to god this is the worst thing I will ever have to deal with. I have never experienced death until this moment.

I was right there with everyone being hard on you as I read through this, but when I got to this, I thought:

I've been on both sides of this, albeit in younger relationships. But they were both several years ago now.

Being cheated on -- it made me stronger, smarter, better at understanding people, more independent-minded. I have no particular bad feelings about those people now.

Cheating on someone
-- that was a fucking killer, and it killed me that it ruined a relationship with someone I loved. It haunted me for a long, long time.

That's the difference: now, in light of this, he, in his mind, has been deceived by a lying, cheating whore. Not really so bad, right?

Whereas you, in your mind, have destroyed an innocent angel you're still in love with. That's a grade-A heart-stabber.

You did bad, but you didn't kill anyone. Try to learn from your mistakes, and don't do it again. You're okay.
posted by skwt at 1:10 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and for the record, I cheated once, when I was young, and saw how awful the effects were on the person I loved, and I've never even come close to cheating again. "Once a cheater always a cheater" is bullshit. People can learn from their mistakes.
posted by skwt at 1:14 AM on November 28, 2009

Clearly you're going through a really rough patch, one I've plowed through myself.

Please pay attention to ellF's advice here.

There are two ways out of this: the default decision route, in which you let events happen to you over the coming weeks, and the pro-active approach in which you seek therapy and unravel whatever happened with the assistance of someone who will aid you without judging you.

Your original post, your earlier responses in the comments, even your user name reveal a kind of "who, me?" passivity, as if you haven't quite realized that you—yes, you!—have real agency in, control over, or responsibility for what happens in your life. Your last comment adopts the language of responsibility with (it seems) little awareness of what "taking responsibility" means in action. It's all part of a magic-mirror, fairytale-princess version of narcissism: you can't desire but must be desired; your desirability, and the power of it, is the pivot around which the entire story revolves.

I've been where you are now. Try to get outside your internal narrative (which, I know, seems like breathing outside the atmosphere). Your life has no pre-determined shape. It's yours to take on, or not.
posted by dogrose at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

The hardest part was seeing him hurt and not being able to comfort him... I wanted to run to him, hold him and tell him it will be alright.

In the six months between discovery (or "D-Day" as it's often called on online infidelity forums) and my separation, attempted reconciliations are what haunt me the most. She'd come upstairs in the middle of the night (by then, we'd been sleeping in separate bedrooms in a (thankfully) big 2-story hourse) bawling, saying "I don't want to live." I'd say "That's how I feel as well" and we'd embrace and cry our eyes out over our crumbling marriage. The schism really did a number on my mental health, especially after she went for the jugular in marriage counseling (we had a hack, dogshit excuse for a counselor who sought to legitimize every philandering move my ex-wife made.)

When the most important person in your life pulls this sort of chicanery in a marriage, it's quite a challenge to get out alive and with a healthy mental state intact. It's been a brutal couple of years, but I'm thankful that I unloaded the big house at the peak of the bubble, got to keep all of my favorite cats, and now there's no one around to nag me except myself. Plus, I can play my "ELITIST SNOB ART ROCK BULLSHIT" (her "wise" words when I'd throw on, say, an Eno record) whenever I want. Life's not so bad, and it will get better. Even after the garbage marriage counselor experience, I found a killer therapist who's helping me work through the shipwreck of my divorce.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:55 PM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

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