Can we save our marriage from my past infidelities?
February 8, 2005 6:19 PM   Subscribe

DivorceFilter: I've revealed some past infidelity (going on for at least five years with a number of men) to my husband and, being an engineer, he's googling the situation to try and find people that have gone through the same thing and kept their marriage together. He's looking for statistics/probability of marriage survival. He's only found people that have split up and are now bitching about their exs on boards. We're in couples therapy, I'm in individual therapy, he's getting some treatment but both of us have this "is it best to cut our losses?" feeling. There is a small child, a cute dog and an expensive house in the mix, besides a marriage now in its tenth year. Anyone have any ray of hope? Or, if not, advice on being friends and keeping this from damaging the elementary school-aged child?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Even if you're not religious, see a member of the clergy and get some counseling... especially on forgiveness. I would recommend Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA, Methodist Church or another "mainline" denomination.

The two of you made a commitment to each other; I think only you guys can decide whether it's time to "cut your losses", but I think either way, forgiveness, true forgiveness, will help you from being bitter toward each other and emotionally harming your kid. Think it through and let things settle down before you make any big decisions (sounds like this is what you're doing anyway).

Good luck.
posted by Doohickie at 6:44 PM on February 8, 2005

Something similar happened to my parents when I was quite small and they managed to work it out. There was a lot of pain and a lot of hard work, but they managed and they're stronger for it now.

The most important thing you have together is trust, which is pretty much in shambles right now. It will take a long time to reestablish that trust, but it's possible. You need to be brutally, fully honest with each other right now. It will frequently be scary, painful, frustrating, difficult, but it's necessary.

If you think you'll do things like this again, your husband needs to know that. If you promise that it will never happen again, you better make damn sure that it doesn't, since you probably won't get a second chance at recovering.

No matter what direction you go in at this point, there will be a lot of pain and a lot of hard work in trying to heal wounds that may never fully heal. You need to decide if you want to do that work and healing together, or alone.
posted by spaghetti at 6:45 PM on February 8, 2005

You see, people are so different about these sorts of things. Statistics? Data points? Advice? What are you looking for, anonymous? All those things are going to fly wide of the mark, because we don't know you from a hole in the ground and can't get any more info.

I know I couldn't get past something like this (staying friends!? try "not hacking you apart with an axe for doing this to my children and me" for starters). But the one thing I do know about you is that you're not married to me.

Heck, lots of men actually dig this. Your best bet would be to search for forums where cuckolds and their mates hang out. You've been cuckolding him for years; maybe you can get him to like it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:51 PM on February 8, 2005

#1 - Shield your child from all of this at all costs.

#2 - Don't listen to the well-intentioned (but usually unbelievably bad) advice of friends and family. People you love and trust will suddenly seem to go insane with news that your marriage is in trouble.

#3 - Three therapists. One for each of you (NOT the same one) and a third as a marriage counselor, you can sign agreements that your individual therapists may or may not discuss your case with the joint marriage counselor. if you both want your marriage to work and you can figure out a way to regain his trust in you, maybe you can rebuild. A lot depends on the details, when were you unfaithful, was it someone he knows, etc...

#3 - If it is possible to be friends, it may not happen for a very long time, if ever. Try not to add this pressure/worry to the mix, if you decide to split and you can remain civil, polite and respectful, you will be in a very good place, and most importantly, so will your child.
posted by Woolcott'sKindredGal at 7:01 PM on February 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yeah; could you make the question more specific so we can be of service? (Clearly some of the responders are failing to be helpful.) Matt or Jessamyn would be willing to post something for you, I'm sure, and preserve your anonymity. (I would too, if you can prove your identity to be that of the poster's, but you don't know me from Adam.)

Apart from that, my question for you is this: cut the "we" marriage shit for a minute, forget about the kid (as hard as that may be), and the house, and think about what you want. Clearly you've been either dissatisfied or pathological (and I mean that in the medical way) for some time: so, what do you, and you alone, really want? Ya wanna be married to this guy? Lots of us act out in relationships because it's actually easier to cheat on someone or lie to them than say what we think are totally horrifying words: "I don't want to be with you."

I say this because you sound really disassociated from your experience: "I've revealed some past infidelity..."? What's up with that passiveness? So, while I think disobeying an agreement to monogamy is really selfish, in another way I don't think you're being selfish enough right now. So spend a day doing it. You're not listening to yourself at all, and clearly other people are getting hurt over that.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:03 PM on February 8, 2005

I bet what your husband's seeing on Google is self-selection.

In my experience, people in healthy relationships are less likely to talk about their partners' flaws in public. I imagine the men who have come to terms with their wives' infidelity are talking about it privately to their friends (and wives), not boasting about it on the internet.

If he's seriously upset by the horror stories he's seeing online -- and he's enough of an engineer to understand statistical biases -- you might try pointing this out to him.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:08 PM on February 8, 2005

I think RJ Reynolds might have the best advice yet.

Figure out what you want, because nothing is going to work if your heart isn't in it. If you don't want the marriage, faking it is just going to make life a living hell for you, if not your kid.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:25 PM on February 8, 2005

It's really obvious from the way you've worded your question that you're out of there. The fact that you list "a small child, a cute dog and an expensive house," as primary reasons for staying together (followed by a weak mention of the length of the relationship -- though you've been cheating for "at least five" of those) reveals a fundamental lack of love and respect for your spouse. You've labeled this "DivorceFilter," after all, not "ReconciliationFilter." And honestly, this kind of thing happens, and it's okay. Just be honest with yourself and to him. Don't put it on him to search out mortality stats as if this was a medical experiment you were considering. It's like someone Googling the success rates of various fire extinguishers while his house is burning down.

The whole thing makes me sad. He's too weak to look away from his computer and you're too weak to tell him it's done. And my hunch is the kid doesn't appreciate the limboland life he's got going on right now.

Good luck to you, this is a terrible time but things will inevitably get better for all of you.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 7:27 PM on February 8, 2005

I've revealed some past infidelity (going on for at least five years with a number of men)

I'm really sorry for saying this, and I apologize if it sounds harsh, but why do you want to save this marriage (besides the kid)? If you've been unfaithful multiple times, shouldn't you be doing everyone a favor and exploring the reasons for your actions?

How many times are you willing to invest a lot of energy into fixing this kind of problem? I mean, as painful as it will inevitably be, maybe "cutting your losses" is what you owe your family?

(And I mean that in the nicest possible way.)
posted by mudpuppie at 7:31 PM on February 8, 2005

A few observations based on 30 plus years as a mental health professional (15 doing marriage counseling)--multiple affairs for five years is not a good omen, trust is probably in the pits and if it isn't I would be worried why it isn't, googling for direction (interesting approach but does not inspire confidence), no mention of your respect/fondness/love/like for each other--kids houses and cars do not a marriage make--honesty, work, love, respect, shared values, etc. are much more important----congratulations on seeking professional help albeit a rather heavy dose--by far the most difficult issue for most of us is to make peace with the fact there truly is no right/wrong decision(we are neither omnicient not omnipotent)--however--there is a responsibility to make a decision and then a commitment to making it work. As for your child--to complicated for a blog--simply put--if you each handle yourselves with dignity, mutual respect, appreciate that each has unique skills and a role, and remember that no matter what your pain it has no place in either of your relationships with your child it will probably work out--My Best wishes Frank
posted by rmhsinc at 7:55 PM on February 8, 2005

I don't see the past indescretions as meaning you will definitely part ways. I know some couples that have an "open" relationship and seem to handle it okay (though that's playing with fire in my opinion). The betrayal must hurt, but beyond that, do you want to stay in the relationship? I think if you want to, it can be done.

If not, I don't think divorce is the end of the world. There are worse things that can happen to a kid. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but better divorce than staying in a relationship you don't want.

In other words, I think your situation can be made to work, if you want it to.
posted by xammerboy at 7:58 PM on February 8, 2005

You don't say how small the child is, but if you don't think you can hack this long-term, splitting while the kid is little is better than splitting when the kid is big. My mother left my father before I was three, and I was much less traumatized than kids whose parents were divorced later; I didn't feel like I had lost something, because I couldn't remember having had it.

This is my only insight on this one.
posted by dame at 8:16 PM on February 8, 2005

From someone who has done the 'divorce with a child' thing, that "three counselors" idea is awesomely good. Anyway...

"keeping this from damaging the elementary school-aged child"

Establish if this is absolutely truly what both of you want to accomplish, regardless of what else happens. This is not always the case. Beyond that, your issues leave so many unanswered questions, anything further would be pure speculation.
posted by mischief at 8:25 PM on February 8, 2005

while i appreciate the desire to remain friends should your relationship move towards divorce, there is an outside possibility that it can all go to hell. speaking from personal experience, i recommend that you talk to a good divorce lawyer, preferably someone recommended by a friend (if you're in the bay area, i can provide a name). i did not do this was pretty much screwed six ways from sunday and found myself with less than zero nine years ago. never underestimate how horrible people can be towards one another.
posted by heather at 8:52 PM on February 8, 2005

If you've been cheating with multiple people over the last half of your entire marriage, it's over. You are who you are, no amount of couples therapy is going to change it. I make no moral value judgement here, it just sounds like the two of you have very different outlooks that are not going to work together in the long run.

Don't abuse his kindness and willingness to work things out. If you know it's not going to work, the best thing to do is cut it off now. Kids, house, etc. is irrelevant.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:04 PM on February 8, 2005

Word of advice - don't enter into reconciliation efforts unless you really, really want to.

My ex did make a superficial effort, for reasons I cannot understand to this day, and caused me the most intense and unnecessary pain as I tried to reconcile the words with the deeds. (I know this because we've talked about it since).

If you've been dishonest in the past, now is your chance to get it right.

FWIW, despite that, I toughed out cordial relations for daughter's sake, and like the guy in the Oscar Wilde story with the mask, pretending to be forgiving and relaxed has made it so.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:37 PM on February 8, 2005

Anonymous, if you both want to keep the marriage together--not because it's "the done thing" but because you WANT to keep the marriage together--then forget about the statistics and the case histories. The crucial thing about marriage is that it's a two-person deal; figuring out the way it works is entirely up to the two of you. It doesn't have to conform to the pattern of anybody else's marriage, and it doesn't have to be "fair"; it just has to be something that works for the two of you. And that can be anything. It just involves talking. A whole lot. With absolute openness about everything, at least until you've set ground rules for what you want to be absolutely open about and what you don't. If you can't come up with something mutually acceptable, or don't want to, only then do you actually have losses to cut.
posted by 88robots at 9:52 PM on February 8, 2005

Joe's point is excellent. A dear friend of mine had her husband go to counseling with her when he finally figured out he was gay. It was agonizing, because they both needed help: he, to come to grips with his identity, and she, to come to grips with losing him. Therapy seems obligatory in these situations, and if you're both interested in working it out it can work wonders, but as others have pointed out, both the distant tone and content of your post says you've checked out.

So, maybe it's time for therapy for you, to figure out why you've been cheating, and why you chose this moment to reveal it to him after five years with no plan in place for what you'd do next. My instinct is that you've been unhappy for a long time and hoped your revelation would force him to be the one to finally sever your relationship. Ultimately, the important thing is that you don't seem to understand your own behavior very well, and that suggests that you could use some help sorting it out.

If after therapy, you figure out that your motives all along have been to escape your marriage, the best kindness you can do for everyone involved is to actually go. Don't torture your husband by forcing him to end it, or give him hope if there is none.
posted by melissa may at 10:02 PM on February 8, 2005

You don't deserve him. Do him a favor and end it.
posted by delmoi at 10:03 PM on February 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

There's been some great advice in this thread. I'll just echo that "keeping the marriage together" is nonsensical in the absence of a deeply felt desire to do that. If you're not feeling that and if you're working to build a list of "reasons you should" then be honest with yourself that it's time to figure out what's next. I'll celebrate my 10th anniversary this summer. Awesome. I would not have had this opportunity if, when my first marriage went south, I hadn't been ruthless about using that moment to figure out if that was a relationship I could tolerate v. thrive in. It was the former (and we're still friends/in contact).

My main point: Follow your heart/look after yourself, forget everything else and if you do that, it'll all fall in place.
posted by donovan at 10:10 PM on February 8, 2005

Also: there's some things I'd share/possible advice & experience I'd relate to your situation that I won't post publicly. Check out my profile and email me if you're interested in a conversation.
posted by donovan at 10:12 PM on February 8, 2005

I'm with delmoi. Maybe your husband should be getting your child, too. You're abusing both of them.
posted by shoos at 10:48 PM on February 8, 2005

I wouldn't go nearly as far as shoos, but I agree with a previous poster that it is indeed telling that nowhere in your question do you say that you love your husband. Wouldn't that be the first thing you say if you loved him? It isn't fair to anyone invovled to stay together if you don't.
posted by Justinian at 11:49 PM on February 8, 2005

Hey Anon, the question to ask yourself, amongst some of the others suggested, is 'Why'? I don't mean that in any accusatory way.

I'm not naturaly monogamous myself. Emotionaly I am of the "who cares about lunch so long as you're home for dinner" school. In my first long-term-relationship we had an open rule. I found a little adventure made life at home better, and then latter in the relationship I found less motivation for the adventure. (my man ended up dieing of heart disease).

Were your outside romps a product of disastisfaction OR a desire to do nice for some other sweet man? Its all about where your heart is, one way and another (ie, both how you feel about your husband, as well as your motivation in your external affairs).
posted by Goofyy at 12:04 AM on February 9, 2005

What delmoi said. It's over. It has obviously been over for a while. One brief fling is indicative of problems in the relationship, and is fixable. Five years of continued cheating indicates that this is not the relationship for you. And frankly, you don't deserve him. He kept his vows. Why didn't you? That's meant both in the sense that you seriously need to figure that out, and also as an accusation. Five years.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:58 AM on February 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

NOTwhat delmoi and shoos and dirtynumbangelboy said. I wish some people would keep their fucking morals to themselves.

At the risk of sounding like some little pedantic freak, let's look again at what the site says about AskMe: "Ask MetaFilter is as useful as you make it. Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. Wisecracks don't help people find answers. Thanks."

The best advice here is to figure out what you really want, deep in your heart. If you don't want to be with this guy, then don't. It will be hard and sucky for a good while, but eventually it will get better. Lots of kids have lived through divorce and turned into decent human beings. With lots of love and hard work, you can set your child on that path, too.
posted by Irontom at 6:27 AM on February 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

RJReynolds & Civil_Disobedient nail it - most disturbing is your disassociation which, as stated earlier means you've already checked out (& did so in effect years ago). BTW, you wouldn't be a Virgo, would you?
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:30 AM on February 9, 2005

Unless you just have a really hard time expressing yourself, it is hard to read your question and not be surprised by the complete lack of any regret or guilt on your part. There are a few different scenarios which could result in this (he's a jerk & you sort of feel he deserved it; you're a jerk and really don't care; you somehow thought there was an unspoken 'open' clause in the relationship...) but you don't give the impression that you have any real desire to see this through. That may be a good thing. Perhaps you've both been stuck in an unloving relationship for 10 years.

Drawing conclusions from google is certainly pointless, though. As others have said, the ones who worked it out are much less likely to be blabbing about it in chat rooms.

The kid seems like the only complicating factor here, and it is a complicated situation. Divorce does suck for kids, even though it's quite normal and most of us end up fine. That doesn't really change the fact that it sucks, though. So I would say at this point, try to focus attention on making it suck less for the kid. Make sure you're emotionally available to the child, that you're spending time with him or her, that you're keeping up on his or her school progress and friends and all the rest. If you can avoid moving to another state etc, that will make it easier too.
posted by mdn at 6:40 AM on February 9, 2005

I, too, am with delmoi. You need to acknowlege that this is your doing. If you do not truly desire to be with this man then you will most likely continue to cheat on him after you get through this. It is not right that your husband be put through this and that a child grow up in a home with such comprimised morals and double standards. If it can be ended civily then it will be far less traumatic and stressful to your child than another decade of coldness and dishonesty.
posted by mervin_shnegwood at 6:46 AM on February 9, 2005

My parents split when I was one, to no ill effect except that I'm a little uncomfortable on the dating scene. But that's true with just about everyone anyway. Split now if you don't see yourself with this guy for the rest of your life - it'll do your kid a lot less harm than constant arguments, mistrust, or miserable parents.
posted by lorrer at 7:24 AM on February 9, 2005

Go here. For the most part, they are kind and helpful people, however, they are pretty much of the This Marriage Must Be Saved mindset. If that's what you want too, they have been there and can help

I have been divorced twice and survived twice, so did my children, and while it has never been easy and I have been poor as the proverbial churchmouse, I think it's been better all the way around for everyone. So, from the other side of the divorce abyss, know that it can be done & doesn't necessarily destroy everyone's life. As the child of a really really bad marriage, that stayed together "for the children," I can assure you that divorce is often far far the better solution.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:42 AM on February 9, 2005

Frankly, with this degree of infidelity, and the tone of the post, it's really hard for me to see staying together as the best (or even a tenable) thing to do, for you, your child, and especially your husband. An army of well-trained therapists may not be able to budge that household from a living hell.
posted by drpynchon at 8:03 AM on February 9, 2005

I've revealed some past infidelity (going on for at least five years with a number of men) to my husband...

Did you volunteer this information to your husband or did he catch you? If he caught you, maybe (?) there's some hope, but if you did all that (a number of men? what does that mean?) and then you told the poor sap all the details, you were cruel and you definitely don't want to be married, not to him and probably not to anyone. Don't listen to strangers if you know better in your heart, but I say stop pretending and just divorce him.

If you get the kid, keep a close eye on that number of strange men coming through your door. But maybe you and the kid both would be happier if the kid went with dad, assuming he will have fewer strangers in the house (and therefore a more stable and familiar home for the child).
posted by pracowity at 8:32 AM on February 9, 2005

I cannot help you with statistics. What I can do is spot you some advice:

1) Your husband will never get over it. He may say he has, but things will jog his memory and the pain will return. You need to understand that and learn to deal with it. At the same time, he shouldn't throw it in your face when it happens.

2) Why is the big question he wants answered. Sometimes there isn't a logical why, but if you have one you need to share it with him.

3) Never ever share this with the kid. Ever. Young kids hold their parents as being god like. Crush that and your kid will have a ton of issues growing up.

4) Trust is of the essence at this point.

5) Catholic clergy are useless when it comes to this.

Can your marriage survive? Yes, it can as long as both of you address why it happened and deal with that.

If you don't then don't waste your time.
posted by zymurgy at 8:58 AM on February 9, 2005

It seems your marriage is as good as over. Having been through separation/divorce with 2 kids I would say that counselling for your child is essential. This will be most difficult on him/her. Counselling for yourself is a good idea, too (for obvious reasons).
If you care at all for your husband, then pass this advice to him: He should go to counselling to find out why he's such a doormat and to figure out why he didn't immediately throw your trampy ass out on the street.
posted by rocket88 at 9:16 AM on February 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm one of those kids whose parents divorced later after years of "staying together for the kids."

The damage you are causing now by using them as an excuse to stay in a poisoned marriage is more than you could imagine. If you want your kids to grow into adults who have trouble forming healthy relationships for the rest of their lives, well, you're on the right track. They learn how relationships should work by watching you and their father. Right now you're setting them up for years of cheating, being cheated on, or just plain being terrified of any form of commitment because they've seen the pain it can cause.

Do you really want to know what you can do to minimize psychological damage to your child?


Be out by the first of the month, come to visit often, and make sure you tell that kid that the problems are between mommy and daddy, and have nothing at all to do with him since you both love him very much. And for the love of god, leave the kid with his father. Do you really think watching your parade of "uncles" or "friends" at the breakfast table will make any child a healthy adult?

You clearly were not mature enough to handle marriage, you are not mature enough to be a young child's primary caregiver.
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:39 AM on February 9, 2005

There ain't no "there" there, dearie.

If you've been cheating several times on your husband in the last five years, you are not finding in him what you're looking for. Why don't you both stop trying to convince yourself that there is something worth saving? There isn't.

It's one thing to have a mutually-agreed upon open relationship, but the word "infidelity" pretty much precludes that.
posted by madman at 10:37 AM on February 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone who has said there seems to be a remarkable disconnect exhibited in this narrative... What struck me especially is the wording of "the elementary school-aged child", instead of "our" or "my" child. Perhaps the whole situation is so painful that you feel the need to somehow place yourself outside of it, or perhaps you have been emotionally disconnected for some time. Either way, yes, it seems that the therapy is extremely important. I can't remark on hopes for the marriage, but do pursue your treatment whatever happens with that, and if you feel that the wellbeing of your child is at risk in any way, even by a failure of attention, it may be best to corral all your strength and remove yourself from the scene, at least until you can get back on track.

Of course, all our conclusions are being drawn from less than 150 words addressing a very personal and painful subject, and could be completely meaningless. Listening to the best possible professional advice is the only good answer.
posted by taz at 10:54 AM on February 9, 2005

What skallas said. And will you armchair moralists stop pissing on AskMeFi? "I think you should make a clear-eyed assessment of your own behavior": fine. "You don't deserve him": pissing on AskMeFi. Keep it to yourself.
posted by languagehat at 12:07 PM on February 9, 2005

What Skallas and languagehat said. You're not going to know if it's possible to save your marriage. You can't figure things like that out.

You need to figure out if you really want to try. That's kindest thing for your husband.

As for staying friends-- try parting as friends first. If you are drawn back to each other, great. But forcing something can be very painful, particularly since you have a child.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 12:45 PM on February 9, 2005

"You don't deserve him": pissing on AskMeFi. Keep it to yourself.

Amen, brother!

Here's my two cents, echoing some others: in your heart of hearts, do you love your husband AND want to be in a marriage with him? These two things -- as I found out in ending my marriage -- are not necessarily the same thing. I loved my ex-husband (and we're once again genuinely good friends), but at the end of the day we just didn't want to be married to each other. (Of course, if you just don't actually love your husband to begin with, then the second part of the question is entirely moot.) If you really can't answer both of these questions with a gut, instinctual yes, then I think the kindest thing to do -- in the long run -- is to end it and allow yourself, your husband, and your child to begin the long process of dealing with it all.
posted by scody at 12:48 PM on February 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the double-post -- I just wanted to add that the desire to remain friends if you do indeed split is both noble and natural, but you will have to accept that it's also not something you can particularly control. If you split, you husband may not want to be friends with you (whether temporarily or permanently), and that's his prerogative.

You can, of course, make a mutual decision to remain respectful and civil towards each other at all times in the presence of your child for the sake of his or her emotional well-being, no matter how much animosity either of you may be feeling personally.
posted by scody at 1:00 PM on February 9, 2005

My god, people are reading an incredible amount into the poster's paragraph. Projecting much, there?

From personal experience: if both of you really, sincerely want to continue to be married to each other, you'll work it out. If one of you doesn't want to any more, you won't. Figuring that one out will pretty much tell you how it's going to come down, in the end.
posted by kyrademon at 1:25 PM on February 9, 2005

What 88Robots said is so incisive I am going to post it again.

Anonymous, if you both want to keep the marriage together--not because it's "the done thing" but because you WANT to keep the marriage together--then forget about the statistics and the case histories. The crucial thing about marriage is that it's a two-person deal; figuring out the way it works is entirely up to the two of you. It doesn't have to conform to the pattern of anybody else's marriage, and it doesn't have to be "fair"; it just has to be something that works for the two of you. And that can be anything. It just involves talking. A whole lot. With absolute openness about everything, at least until you've set ground rules for what you want to be absolutely open about and what you don't. If you can't come up with something mutually acceptable, or don't want to, only then do you actually have losses to cut.
posted by xammerboy at 2:17 PM on February 9, 2005

(What xammerboy and 88Robots said.)
posted by kyrademon at 4:07 PM on February 9, 2005

From my experience, regarding kids and divorce: separation and change in a household are not in themselves inherently damaging to a child. Kids are good at change, and adapting, and figuring things out. What causes the damage is conflict, and particularly uncertainty: not knowing what is going on, what those strange tense feelings are about, where they are going to live, if they're going to be okay, if their parents are going to be okay and can be relied on to continue to care for them.

When I split with my huband the first order of business was to make sure that our son knew that life would follow its regular routines, that neither Mom or Dad were going to fall apart, that he had room to express his feelings. There was as little discord as possible, given the circumstances; and over ten years on it seems that though we didn't deal with it perfectly (who does?), we did a good enough job.

So my advice? Figure out what you are doing-- whether you're leaving or you are genuinely ready to recommit to your marriage-- and then do it. And don't try to protect or shield your child by lying about the split (that doesn't mean that he/she needs to hear the details or the reasons); kids can work within the situation they are dealt, but they need the facts in order to do that.
posted by jokeefe at 8:39 PM on February 9, 2005

"There is a small child...."

You are not saying "We have a small child..."

Whose the biological father of the child? If you're saving up that bombshell for a custody dispute you may be dealing with someone who'll be willing to go nuclear in response. Far better for the child's sake if you come clean now while you're still on relatively good terms.
posted by v-tach at 8:44 PM on February 9, 2005

Could people stop reading so much into the phrasing?

In all likelihood the poster is dying inside and trying to phrase things as objectively as possible. I might well have done that myself. Pull your collective heads in and confine yourselves to the facts.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:42 PM on February 9, 2005

I want to also echo 88roberts and xammerboy.
I also want to say that its quite possible I would strongly disagree with the people saying "end it, its for the best" if I knew more about your situation.
I think that your priorities should be
1) your child
2) you
3) your husband
BUT, you need to sort out if those are the right priorities for you.
If your relationship with your husband is one of conflict, then continuing the marriage probably isn't good for the child. But ... there's too many variables so what 88roberts said is so valid.

It's your life, your marriage. You have to decide what's in the best interest of all involved, and that's no easy task. The counseling should help in that.
posted by forforf at 9:43 PM on February 9, 2005

Irontom, it wasn't moralizing. One incident of infidelity is one thing; a pattern going over five years is something completely other. If you can't see the difference, you're the one with the issue, not me.

Anonymouse: I ahave to agree with what whoever said up there. Get out. Move out now. This is not going to be fixable, unless your husband is a saint. Move out, call a divorce lawyer, and be contrite, humble, and above all, look out (honestly) for the best interests of your child.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:01 AM on February 10, 2005

"And frankly, you don't deserve him. He kept his vows. Why didn't you? That's meant both in the sense that you seriously need to figure that out, and also as an accusation."

That, sir, is moralizing. If you can't see that, then you're the one with the issue.

Your slam against me is utterly misplaced - I never said one way or the other whether I thought her actions were right, wrong, deplorable or heroic. I didn't discuss my opinon on single event or long-term patterns of infidelity. You just assumed that since I didnt talk about it, I am utterly without the moral compass that is (apparently) so important to you.

I just want all the traditional moralist types to shut up about it, and aswer the question without preaching or slamming. If they can't do that, then maybe they could do us all a favor and go find somewhere else to shit on.
posted by Irontom at 4:37 AM on February 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

I answered the question first, Mr I'm Perfect And Completely Right And Will Judge All Of You, and then added my two cents on a moral level.

This may well be traditional morality. However, could you please show me where breaking your solemn vows of fidelity is not considered immoral? Yeah. That's what I thought. Go take a shit somewhere else, yourself. I am done derailing this thread; say what you will.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:48 AM on February 10, 2005 [2 favorites]

Everything Joe + Melissa May said. I’ve lived a little of this from the other side, getting caught up as a young guy with a married woman a few years older whose serial infidelity should’ve flashed huge warning signs, but she was just impossibly gorgeous and seriously messed up and that’s always been a fatal combination for me. Well, that and I was young and stupid and thought of no-one else other than myself and it was the first ‘relationship’ I’d had that I could classify as an affair and it all felt so adult and dangerous and hollywoodish that I couldn’t help myself.

We’d talked about the husband and I’d even met him at social functions a few times (she and I worked together) and she’d been so dismissive and so clearly not in love with him that I felt no guilt at all. It helped that he was an arsehole and within thirty seconds of meeting me had told me how many cars and houses he owned, which was plenty. I remember thinking ‘you might have me beat there, but I’m fucking your wife’. I didn’t see him as a rival in any sense. I just felt vaguely sorry for the guy and saw him as an obstacle to getting what I wanted, which was more of her. A child would’ve complicated things, but all we had was mindblowing sex and this feeling of being part of something more significant than it really was due to the circumstances.

She kept talking about leaving him for me, and I was young enough to believe it at the time, but he was wealthy and a great security blanket for her – after six years with him, she knew little else beyond his circle of influence and was unable to define herself without him or his money. Six months of this and the edge starts to wear off a little – the bloom is off the rose, the sense of danger dissipated, and I’d started to wake up to the fact that she was using me as a crutch to get out of a relationship she wasn’t capable of leaving on her own.

As Melissa May points out, “my instinct is that you've been unhappy for a long time and hoped your revelation would force him to be the one to finally sever your relationship”. Very insightful. Similarly, we kept walking closer and closer to the line – no longer hiding our relationship from work colleagues, shagging in a stairwell at a staff xmas party her husband attended and having all-day sessions in her bed on mutual ‘sick days’, picking her up and dropping her off at home and work, making out in her doorway, her driveway, her car, her backyard while her husband was home, phone calls disguised as work-related conference calls, meeting her brother, her mother, her best and only friend, sharing books, music, movies, overnight stays and weekend trips away …

Truth is she wanted to be caught and have her husband put an end to the sham, because she (1) didn’t have the strength to walk away and (2) felt so guilty over not loving him anymore that she wanted to be caught doing something reprehensible as she (3) felt she deserved the shame and attendant judgement and (4) didn’t deserve to be in a happy relationship with him or anyone else and (5) hoped that the shock would cause him to see her in a different light and leave of his own accord.

Possibly (6) she was frustrated with their relationship and didn’t have a voice / wasn’t heard by her husband, and was so downtrodden by their lack of communication and understanding that she’d gotten past the yelling and crying and paggro gameplaying to outright fucking other men to get his attention and point out that she wasn’t happy. He, of course, was mostly oblivious. Maybe even (7) their relationship was so messed up that she was hoping to test his commitment and his love via the ultimate act of betrayal because she couldn’t be sure of it any other way.

Well, we finally got caught. Nothing dramatic, just a friend of a friend with a big mouth and a careless whisper and we were toast. It was a huge surprise for me (and I suspect her), but the husband behaved much as yours did, looking for a way to patch things up. I’ll skip most of the attendant drama, but I’d fallen pretty hard for her, and now was having to deal with the fact that she still wasn’t gonna leave him and that this wasn’t about me at all but about their relationship. I was, more or less, a bit player in their drama. Karma ensured I got the grief I deserved, and after several painful months I finally walked, and am forever grateful I did, though it wasn’t until I left the firm a year later than I was totally free of all the gameplaying and attendant mindfuckery (lesson: never, ever get involved in a work relationship. EVER.)

In terms of emotional toll, it was an expensive lesson, but I sure grew up fast. I tell my story because I know so little of yours, and maybe some of my experience resonates for you. You’ve got some thinking to do. I don’t know whether you want this man and this relationship or not. My girl didn’t know either – or didn’t have the courage to ask herself outright - and her subconscious was forcing this inevitable confrontation in order to find out. Sometimes we do terrible, desperate things to the people we love because we haven’t learnt or can’t find a way to ask heartfelt questions directly of them. As you’ve found out, the consequences aren’t pleasant.

Forget your husband’s needs, your child’s, your emotional framework (guilt, shame, loyalty, love), societal pressure (what is the ‘right’ thing to do?). Ask yourself a simple question: do I want to spend the rest of my life living with this man or not? I suspect the answer is ‘not right now, no, but I may feel differently in a few months and it’s such a big question that I can’t answer it definitively’. In other words, you’re keeping your options open. Not good enough. It’s a terribly selfish thing to do, and as per my / Joe’s experience, you’ll tear whats’ left of your husband’s heart to shreds while you both wait for an answer.

The line I got was “I’m not in love with him, but I do love him, and he’s all I know”. My girl was hoping to fall in love with her husband a second time, and the guilt / shame kept her going for almost six months before she started cheating again. Not with me, though I had to fight damn hard to stay clear. I’m one of those suckers that, once I’ve given you a piece of my heart, I don’t ask for it back when I’m done.

Saying no the second time round was the right thing, but it was not an easy thing, and nor was watching her spin a web around another work colleague and start the whole darn barndance again. This time she had two guys to mess with (hubby and me) and I gotta say she did wonderful work. I remember endless weeks of not sleeping more than an hour or two a night, sharp knives piercing my gut every time I heard her laugh, wondering why every love song ever written was specifically written for me, writing long desperate painful letters I thankfully never sent, the whole works. God only knows what her husband went through. He finally gave her what she asked for and booted her.

I know it’s tough, but the point of all this is that you’re not just hurting yourself; you’re hurting people you should care about, people that clearly care about you, and you’re hurting them a great deal. You have to make a decision, and though I don’t know your circumstances well enough to judge, the very fact that you have to ask the question ‘stay or go?’ tells me that you shouldn’t stay. Think of when you first married your husband – there was no other thought in your mind than spending the rest of your life with him. If you don’t feel that way now, it’s over. Anything less on your part and I promise you the pain you’ve caused him to date will be but a drop in an bottomless bucket …

Walk away, work on your problems, love and care for your child as best you can. You need time and space to work out who you are and what you want – you’ve been defined by your marriage for ten years, and you can’t suddenly become something else without living it and discovering whether it fits. You’ll think much clearer out of the house than in. As it stands, you’re no good for your husband (and most likely a significant negative) and, as others have picked up on, children are remarkably perceptive emotional sponges and will likely be imprinted by your actions now for the rest of their life.

Halfhearted decisions to stay, later reversed, will hurt them both irrevocably – but a half-hearted decision to leave, later reversed, may save you all. Should you leave, and stick to it, you and your husband can both find happiness elsewhere, ensuring an acceptable outcome for all three of you long-term. You revealed this for a reason: you want to stop cheating, or you want to stop being married. Find out which. My advice is to separate, not divorce, start your new life but continue the therapy because you need to gain real insight into your behaviour. Five years with multiple men is not an impulsive act – it’s a desperate cry for help, attention, understanding, comfort, meaning. Every day you stall for time and avoid facing your issues is a day you all could be using to move forward. Don’t compound one mistake with another.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by bookie at 10:57 PM on February 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

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