How do I deal with my spouse having an external romantic relationship?
November 22, 2013 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I found out my partner of 20 years/spouse of 11 was having an emotional/romantic affair with our best friend and lied to me about it. Now that we've gone through the initial reveal, I've told her I've forgiven her; she's hinting she's been thinking about romantic relationships outside of our marriage. tl;dr- Are we done here or can this be saved?

Some background:

My spouse and I met 20 years ago while I was a sophomore in college and she was an incoming freshman. I was the first serious relationship she'd had since high school and the only person she's ever slept with; she was the second really serious relationship I'd ever had and also only the second person I've ever slept with. Over the first 10 years, we only sporadically talked about marriage, for several reasons: she's a pretty dedicated feminist and I've always tried to be as much of a feminist ally as I can- she was never gung-ho about the institution, and I honestly had some issues with it too. I never pushed it and we were pretty content to leave it be, bringing it up every so often just to see if things felt different. Also, for many of those years one or the other of us were going through grad school and we were happy and had lots of close friends in the big city where we lived- why ruin a good thing?

We finally got married 11 years ago, and had our first child a couple years later. 7 years ago, we reluctantly moved back to my hometown, a smaller Midwestern city where I found not-always-satisfying work in my chosen field, and she found dissatisfying part-time work in hers. We made very close friends with our neighbors down the block. They have three kids, we have two, all of whom are about a year separated in age and are also very close. They co-own a local business, and in the last year or so my spouse went to work part-time for them in their store.

About 5 years ago we had our second child. Things changed again: there's definitely more strain on our relationship and we seem to have more financial difficulties and day-to-day difficulties: because of my job, I'm often unable to do things like cook dinner (something I love and used to do regularly), my spouse is sort-of a stay-at-home mom and primary caregiver to our kids, which I know (from her telling me in various ways) doesn't really fit in to her ideals- she's said that she feels like a stereotypical housewife. Still, we loved each other deeply, and while not always happy 100% of the time, I felt like we made it work.

Over the last couple years, we'd been gradually seeing more and more of our friends- dinners, camping trips, etc. My spouse has always been more outgoing and extroverted than myself, and freely admits that she enjoys flirting with guys but has always maintained that it's harmless (and generally, I'm fine with it too- she loves me, so what's the problem?) When text messages from the other guy (who we'll call "A" from here out) began to appear, with increasing regularity, I was somewhat unnerved but still remained cool because, hey, it's just text messages, right? More parties, alcohol would come out and my spouse seemed a bit more comfortable with the two of them than with me, but that was OK- she's flirty, I've always been introverted and shyer and still, we're just friends, right? Over this summer the texts came more and more often, and I started to wonder if maybe something wasn't happening behind my back. I decided to ask her if she and "A" were having some sort of affair. She denied it flat out and said she loved me unquestionably. I let it drop but with a deepening sense of unease.

Over the next week or so, my spouse began to behave uncharacteristically. She told me she was going to her weekly book group, but then came back 5 hours later in a state of distress- crying, visibly unhappy. She admitted to me that she hadn't gone to book group but instead had sat in a parking lot in the dark by herself for a few hours and then had gone to the bar with a female friend of ours for a few more hours before coming home. A few days later, she went to the bar again, this time with "A" and another male friend of ours. She came home 4 hours later, during which time I worried incessantly about where she was and when she got home I asked and she denied that anything had happened. Other weird things started to happen- for example, she suddenly turned off the "Find My Friends" feature on her phone, which we'd used to tell where we were on the beach or to time dinner by the other's departure from work.

About a month ago I was installing software updates that required me to log in to my spouse's account on our computer and change some settings. Not a big deal, normally- we share each other's passwords, we only had the separate accounts so we wouldn't get our documents mixed up, and we frequently used each others' accounts to check something quick online, or whatever. On this occasion, however, she had left her sent email open and I foolishly glanced at it, saw the top message had my name in it, and then realized it was an email she had forwarded to "A". Basically, this email was a few years' old message between my spouse and a different friend(who we'll call "B"), where she revealed as part of a conversation that she had a major crush on neighbor "A" and that "B" should never tell me about it because it would break my heart (true). My wife had basically forwarded the contents of that email (between her and "B") to "A".

I was indeed heartbroken and I asked my spouse again if she was having some sort of affair(without mentioning that I'd seen the email), and she admitted that she and "A" had been basically been starting to have a serious emotional/romantic relationship, but had decided to end it before it got too out of hand- she claimed they hadn't done anything physical, just talking about mutual attraction and they realized it was wrong and that was the end of it. She never mentioned sending the email(what I consider a lie of omission).

A few days later, after having violent anxiety, I finally confronted her about the email, said I knew there was more to it than what she'd told me. She admitted it, and said that she was extremely sorry and deeply regretted what she'd done. I was angry and sad; told her how hurt and betrayed I felt. According to both my spouse and "A", nothing physical had happened, but my sense is that if I hadn't said something initially it would probably have progressed that way. She and I have had several discussions since then, and finally, when I pressed her, she revealed that she'd been having "vague, preliminary thoughts" about some sort of alternative marriage arrangement- open marriage, or some sort of outside romantic relationships. I told her that while I wanted to do whatever I could to make her happy and fulfilled, an open relationship wasn't what I signed up for when we got married.

She has since told me that she's abandoned those thoughts since she's seen how much distress it causes us to talk about it. I don't really believe it, and I don't want her to be romantically unfulfilled or unhappy. She refuses to discuss it any further, basically and says she shouldn't have brought it up.


1. How can I ever trust my partner again? I never thought about this sort of thing ever happening, and I feel a bit like a fool, but I want to regain my trust in her and try to salvage what I can with our relationship, especially since there's kids involved.

2. What, if anything, should I do about the open marriage question? I like to think I'm an open-minded, Dan Savage GGG guy but this might be too much for my jealousy and insecurity issues.

Before anyone suggests, yes- I am seeking therapy on my own for my own problems. I've suggested couples' therapy but my spouse is so far not interested.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (49 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've never heard of the transition to an open relationship from a monogamous one going well when one partner has a third already in mind when it's proposed. I've seen many people suggest this when they have a foot out the door emotionally, though, but are afraid to take the plunge. If your wife loves you and wants to be with you, I think you need to get your relationship back onto solid ground first before you even consider introducing other parties into it.

That being said, your wife sounds deeply unhappy in her field, with your work schedule, and with where she lives. The thrill of this dalliance and with flirting with other men is only a band-aid. I honestly feel like drastic life style changes are in order, for both of you, if you want your relationship to survive.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:24 PM on November 22, 2013 [30 favorites]

This is really tough, because it does seem like your lives are such that neither of you is really happy or satisfied, but her especially. It doesn't justify her actions, but she sounds totally miserable with almost every aspect of her life, even if she loves you and the kids. And if she were willing to go see a therapist with you, or talk openly about your issues, there's a chance you guys could resolve this and rebuild your lives in a way that would make you both happy. But if she won't even agree to discuss it beyond briefly suggesting open marriage and then clamming up and refusing to mention it or go to therapy, it's hard to see a way forward here. She's gotta meet you halfway.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:25 PM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Generally you don't get to decide to have an open marriage after you've been caught cheating.
posted by empath at 1:26 PM on November 22, 2013 [86 favorites]

You know, I think you need to tell her that your trust is damaged, and that this needs to be addressed if your relationship is going to continue. Meaning, whether she is interested or not, she needs to come to couples therapy with you.

I really do not see the need to enter into an open marriage. That, as I understand it, is something both partners should want, not an option you have to try to put up with to make her happy.

I am very, very sorry about this and just want to suggest to you that 1) you are not a fool to have trusted someone you love; and 2) you need to think about what you will do if she sticks to her unwillingness to address the damage to the trust in your relationship. For me, if that's the case, I'd be getting in touch with a good divorce lawyer.
posted by bearwife at 1:27 PM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

It sounds to me like it's been over for awhile. Sorry. I would suggest getting some good therapy, for you, your spouse and your children.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:27 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Time. Time is your ally here. Give yourself a deadline -- another month from now, or after you're comfortable enough to discuss it with your therapist, or something like that. And tell her that you've set that deadline, and you'd rather not discuss it until then, but that when that time comes, you're going to want to sit down with her and hash out what comes next. But don't decide anything permanent right now, just a few weeks after this -- and giving her permission to have an affair or an open marriage on a trial basis or whatever will have permanent effects, so don't do that either.

And don't let her get away with "Nope, I've decided not to do this thing that I wanted to do, since it apparently upsets you." That's not how people work; she can't just flip a switch in her head and decide that she's sexually fulfilled by you and you alone now that you've resisted the idea.
posted by Etrigan at 1:30 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've suggested couples' therapy but my spouse is so far not interested.

Maybe a deal-breaker? I think you have the right to say "this is a thing I need from you, or I'm done here." and it is a thing you need here.

You have a right at this point to set the conditions under which you will remain in the relationship, & she needs to be willing to meet them, though these conditions would be best hashed out with a marriage counselor, rather than in the bedroom,where it could get ugly.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:31 PM on November 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

2 -- what to do about the open marriage question. Do YOU want an open marriage? No? Then the answer is no, you're not cool with it.

1 -- how to trust her again.

Man, I don't know. Maybe you never will completely trust her again, but can reach an amount of acceptable trust to continue the relationship. Frankly, I don't believe that your spouse and A never had a physical encounter, based on what you're telling me here. Her confessions were calculated based on how much information you already had, which is why she became more and more truthful the more she realized you what you already knew.

She's been unhappy for a long time. She went about rectifying her unhappiness in a way that got you hurt. She should be as happy and satisfied as possible and so should you. This probably doesn't mean continuing the status quo and watching her have an "open marriage" with the guy down the street. It also doesn't mean not talking about it, airing the roots of unhappiness and maybe even splitting up.

For now, keep the kids calm and out of it. See the hell out of your therapist for a month or so, then get a free consultation with a divorce attorney to feel things out. Everything is still really recent -- the situation didn't get here overnight and it won't be resolved over night.
posted by mibo at 1:31 PM on November 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

My thoughts:

1. Only consider Open Marriage if the idea has always appealed to you. Do NOT consider an Open Marriage to hang onto a cheating spouse. Not everyone is wired for polyamory, if you're not, don't agree to this. Full stop.

2. You need individual therapy to process this betrayal. No way around it. So glad you're on that. Up your sessions. Two a week won't hurt anything.

3. You need couples therapy if you want any HOPE of saving your marriage, and even if you get it, there's a 50/50 chance it will work out. If your wife isn't willing, start divorce proceedings.

4. Your wife has not been a good partner to you. She has betrayed you in word and deed. I don't care if they fucked or not. That's not the point, is it? Unless she's serious about her regrets and willing to be transparent and suspected for at least a year, she's not committed to your marriage. If she won't go to therapy with you, she's not committed to your marriage.

5. See a lawyer now. Explain that you're thinking of leaving the marriage. As what you need to do now to keep everything as civil as possible. Consider legal separation, and find out what that entails.

You won't make good decisions if you're not thinking clearly, so make no decisions yet. I do suggest that you get yourself accustomed to thinking seriously about divorce though. No one should be unhappy in their marriage, either you, or your spouse. And right now, your marriage is a sham.

You aren't a fool. You knew something was up. Your wife was unkind and dishonest. People do fall out of love, and it hurts. Loving someone who later breaks up with you isn't foolish. It's what happens sometimes.

There's nothing wrong with you. Your wife has just decided to go in a different direction, and even if you hate that idea, you need to let her go, not for her, but for you.

Hang in there dude, it will get better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:37 PM on November 22, 2013 [16 favorites]

I actually don't believe her that it hasn't been physical yet. And why should YOU believe her? She's lied and deceived you for, what, years if I'm reading your question correctly, so she's not a trustworthy person.

And this business about, "oh, yeah, I've been having an emotional affair with OUR friend for some time now ... sorry about that, I feel terrible about it ... So, waddya think about an open relationship?" stuff is mind blowing. What a horrible person she has become.

Sorry, this is game over. You owe it to yourself to get out, now.
posted by jayder at 1:40 PM on November 22, 2013 [27 favorites]

Just want to reiterate: you do NOT have to have an open marriage if you don't want it. Moreover, wanting a monogamous marriage does NOT make you an insufficiently progressive, GGG, Friend-of-Dan-Savage kind of guy. You're going through enough pain right now as it is -- please give yourself a break, and don't berate yourself for wanting what you want. It doesn't make you a bad guy in the least.

I'm so sorry you're going through this.
posted by scody at 1:43 PM on November 22, 2013 [26 favorites]

When someone chooses to cheat on you, it's because something is lacking IN THEM, not you. That means that any compensatory actions need to be taken by that person to repair the relationship they've thrown away, not you. You do not need to agree to an open marriage just to keep this person in your life. Do not compromise just because you have children. Show your children that they should respect themselves enough to get out of relationships with people who are unfaithful. Separate, and start dealing with this stuff with a therapist and be prepared to get therapists for your children too. I am so sorry. You deserve better.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:46 PM on November 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Personally I would consult a divorce attorney. Yes, work your therapy, be a good father, try to be a good husband, etc. But also consult a divorce attorney to fully understand your options here.
posted by 99percentfake at 1:48 PM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

I want to regain my trust in her and try to salvage what I can with our relationship, especially since there's kids involved.

I think a mistake I see a lot on AskMe (and in real life, including my own past experiences) is to, when encountering difficult problems in a relationship, to decide a priori that you're going to stay with someone, and then you attempt to go about figuring out how to get your needs met/be happy in that relationship.

Sometimes it's necessary to ask yourself, "What do I need to be happy/fulfilled within a relationship?" and then figure out if it's possible to do that within your relationship.

I'm not saying that you won't be able to salvage your marriage necessarily, or build trust again, but I'm saying that it would be helpful for you to acknowledge the possibility that you won't, and think about what you would do in that case. As sad and difficult as it is, especially with kids involved, it may no longer be possible for you to be happily married (to this woman), and you will find yourself needing to choose whether you want to be happy or you want to be married.

I like to think I'm an open-minded, Dan Savage GGG guy but this might be too much for my jealousy and insecurity issues.

I don't think that applies here and I don't think you have jealousy or insecurity "issues" given the situation. She's not "GGG" about couples therapy; why should you be about her sleeping with another man?
posted by Asparagus at 1:53 PM on November 22, 2013 [28 favorites]

Where is A's wife? If I'm understanding correctly they have three children and a business together. So where is she in all of this?
posted by McPuppington the Third at 1:56 PM on November 22, 2013 [14 favorites]

In my experience you can trust a partner again in this kind of situation, but that partner has to be ON BOARD with winning back your trust. That means being super-transparent about feelings, locations, communications, etc. That isn't controlling, it is a active, good-faith demonstration on the part of the person who fucked up that they (1) understand what they did was wrong, (2) feel very bad about it, and (3) will not do it again (not "try" not to do it again), and are taking concrete steps in that direction.

This shouldn't be a permanent situation, and it is definitely good to have the support of a counselor to work through this in a way that is healthful. From your description, she sounds kind of unwilling to work with you on this, when the fact that you are so entwined as a family with this other couple means she should be willing to work extra hard to rebuild trust on all sides.

As for the open marriage issue, that's a thing couples should approach from a position of strength and security, not recent infidelity. To do that successfully requires a lot of communication and trust, which are in short supply for you right now.

FWIW, Dan Savage's term for people who behave the way your wife had behaved is "cheating piece of shit" not "GGG."
posted by jeoc at 1:57 PM on November 22, 2013 [22 favorites]

Everyone else has given great advice, so I won't add too much. I think it's important to remember that one can be open-minded about nontraditional relationships and still not want to be in one. It doesn't make you old-fashioned or bigoted to want monogamy.

And I agree that your wife sounds quite unhappy and like she's trying to hide from her problems, get validation from elsewhere, etc. She sounds pretty oblivious to the damage she's caused you, and that makes me think she wouldn't be invested in winning back your trust or even saving your marriage.

From what you posted, it sounds like it's only been a month or so since the last big incident.That's not a lot of time to process or figure out what you want, and it is easy to be in denial for that long,unfortunately.
posted by mermaidcafe at 2:02 PM on November 22, 2013

Just close your eyes and try to imagine how this works out in a way that's okay for you. Can you imagine any kind of situation where this actually works? I sure can't.

If I were your friend and you came to me for advice, I'd give you a hug and tell you how sorry I was and before too long get to work on making a plan for divorce.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:17 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

So you've caught your wife in an affair --- she says it's only an emotional affair, not physical, but since she lied in the first place about her involvement with A, she's not exactly trustworthy, is she?

Then she follows THAT up with both a refusal to work on your marriage (i.e., she refuses to consider couples therapy) while also basically insisting you after-the-fact condone and accept her extramarital affair plus welcome yet MORE infidelity with her 'open marriage' proposal. In other words, she's the one who strayed but you're the one who is supposed to pay.

Look, before anything else --- and certainly before any more talk about open marriages! --- the two of you need do some serious work, TOGETHER, on your marriage: and yeah, that means call in a professional, and get some couples theraphy. Then and only then, can you introduce a new question like the open marriage thing.

Good luck.
posted by easily confused at 2:18 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had never encountered the term "emotional affair" until a few years ago, and then all of a sudden, it seemed to be everywhere.

In my limited experience with this in my pastoral work, I have seen couples work through this situation, provided that they both willingly engage in a therapeutic process with a trained couples therapist (in other words, not me), that they participate in the process for considerable time, that they both take the process seriously (i.e, neither treating therapy as "punishment for getting caught" or simply going through the motions of the homework given in counseling).

Still, it is a long hard road ahead either way.

I am so sorry you are going through this. I know it is truly awful. Be good to yourself.
posted by 4ster at 2:21 PM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

What, if anything, should I do about the open marriage question? I like to think I'm an open-minded, Dan Savage GGG guy but this might be too much for my jealousy and insecurity issues.

Jealousy is a feature, not a bug. Its built in because there is an evolutionary advantage to not raising other people's children or to lose a spouse who had children with you to someone else while you are raising the kids.

If you don't want to do it, its fine. If she wants a divorce that's fine. But you are not being the "cool Dan Savage" guy if you allow yourself to be in a type of relationship you don't want.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:24 PM on November 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

I am so sorry. This would devastate me.

Do you have any friends, first of all? People you can talk to?

If she won't seek therapy, will you?

Will you also promise yourself not to accept a crazy-making unhappy situation just to "preserve" a marriage, or because you feel guilty that she didn't date more before you, or because she is unhappy in her job, or because you think it's better for your children? Because the temptation of staying in a martyr role rather than admitting something needs to end always has really bad fallout.

She has her reasons for being unhappy, no doubt. But that doesn't excuse lying to you and having an affair, physical or not. What people who act responsibly do is get counseling when they are unhappy, or find ways to make things better, or find a way to split up that is fair. Having affairs instead of doing any of that is common, but it is not ok. And it never ends well for anyone. She is responsible for her own happiness and she needs to look for it in a better and less destructive way.

If she can't see that, if she doesn't want to do those things, then things are just going to get worse. Your description doesn't make things sound good; but then, we're just a bunch of people on the internet, and we are not in your marriage. You have to figure out what's right for you and your kids.

Seek outside help; counselor, yes, but I am sorry to say, a lawyer too. You need to be prepared.
posted by emjaybee at 2:26 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

As someone who has been an open relationship for many years, this does not sound like a good time to begin one for the two of you.

Open relationships only work if the two people involved really trust each other and have excellent communication and honesty. Because I do get jealous from time to time. It is only because I trust that my partner is being open and honest with me and is willing to talk about my feelings and stick with me that I am able to wait patiently for my jealousy to pass, which it eventually does. Without a strong feeling of security in your relationship, jealousy will eat you alive once you are both seeing other people.
posted by mai at 2:46 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can only reiterate that your stance on an open relationship (as it pertains to YOUR relationship) should ONLY be dictated by your feelings---and not what your spouse wants. Even if you compromised and open the relationship, there's little guarantee your relationship with your wife will benefit.

My last relationship involved being cheated on and I also got the request to open the relationship, as you did. Despite my better judgement I allowed the relationship to become open, but from the very start it was clear things were not fair. My partner acquired a new lover, and our relationship became more strained than ever. The relationship ended very badly, as has been the case for every person I've met where 1 person in the relationship wanted an open one and the other did not.

You've made it clear that an open relationship is not for you. Stick by it for your sake.
posted by stubbehtail at 2:56 PM on November 22, 2013

Open relationships are difficult enough to get right for many people - even well-intentioned, thoughtful people for whom they basically work! - when they're starting from a good place. If you start opening up the relationship now, you'll probably always feel one-down and sort of abject and it will be Not Fun At All. Don't let some kind of bullshit leftwing guilt (I hope I can say that as an anarchist who feels bullshit activist guilt a lot) convince you to do something that is generally fine but bad for you in these circumstances. "GGG" is a general principle, and you've got to believe that general principles don't apply to every single case.

If it were me in this situation, I would try to figure out if my partner were committed enough to the relationship to stay in it if we were both working on it. Like, is this horrible ill-advised affair the result of general misery, such that you and she could work on making your lives as a whole better while also recommitting to the marriage? Is it something that she would normally have written off as just a crush if she hadn't been distracted and weakened by generalized boredom and misery? I could easily see that being a professional who has been forced into housewifehood might push someone to seek value/power/interest in an affair, because that person had lost so much that previously made them feel fulfilled and worthwhile. If that's the case, and if she wants to make you the priority, then it seems that therapy plus some planning so that she has some kind of more fulfilling work would be helpful.

This sounds really hard! It also sounds like you have been as trusting, honest and forthright as possible, and I hope things go as well as they possibly can.
posted by Frowner at 3:10 PM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

My gut reaction was that the crush on another person is not serious and is only an easy and unfulfilling way of channelling emotions away from the real issues: she is unhappy with mostly being a stay-at-home mom in a rather small city that's not very interesting where her job is part-time retail and doesn't allow her to use her talents. She really enjoys the company of other people who have similar values/interests and would probably love a job that was more intellectually challenging, but she doesn't see many people at all and has few activities other than a weekly book group. I know a lot of people would be very happy with this kind of life, because it sounds like it is peaceful and you have a wonderful family. But personally (as a dedicated feminist who loves the city) I would be miserable living this way, and maybe your wife is too - my point is, maybe the unhappiness is about having talents that aren't being used, feeling like you can make a positive contribution to the world in a career, working on a team with colleagues and dealing with challenges and developing your skills in a field that matters to you... and not having it. If that's what I needed and didn't have, I might be spending my emotional energy crushing on some actor, say, because then I wouldn't have to face a problem that seemed overwhelming. So did you guys talk about maybe whether she has dreams and goals like this, and would like to go back to a full-time career, or to school for one? Is that the real issue?
posted by citron at 3:17 PM on November 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

I've suggested couples' therapy but my spouse is so far not interested.

Wait, what? Why? What is her reason? Is she willing to get some individual therapy for herself?

To me, the "not interested" plus the "has abandoned thoughts of open relationship" reads a lot more like "This whole thing is unpleasant and horrible and thinking about it makes me feel bad and I would rather just avoid the whole thing." Which is in no way helpful. I totally get the desire to avoid, but it's not a desire that will actually help you (both of you) navigate your way through this, and it will certainly not help navigate your way through deciding if the marriage continues, and if so, what that looks like.

She doesn't want to talk about it? Tough. Especially since having an open or poly relationship requires a shitload of - yes, talking!
posted by rtha at 3:33 PM on November 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

This could be reading too much into it, but the grand total of what I get out of this is that she's bored and lonely and romance was tempting. Romance is still tempting, but she for some reason doesn't feel like she's going to get romance with you. If once you guys have romance she's still wanting to open things up, address this then, you might feel less insecure about it--but I'd say there's a fair chance that if you guys had romance, she wouldn't care about getting it elsewhere. If you can't get romance back, then it's probably time to figure out what comes next.

Romance doesn't matter to everybody, but if you're someone to whom it does, then "well things weren't that bad" doesn't go very far. This in no way diminishes that she lied about it and such, but everybody comes into their relationships with certain needs, and if your goal is having this work out, "figuring out how to get needs met" goes right along with "re-establishing trust", and she might be more on board with getting counseling together if she knows you really care about that. I can see how she might just be expecting guilt and shame out of that if it's mostly being phrased in terms of the infidelity and I can see why it would be unappealing if she's already feeling guilty and ashamed just fine on her own.
posted by Sequence at 3:44 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

2. Opening a marriage that's in crisis generally doesn't fix it. It throws gas on the fire. Especially if only one of you likes the idea.

1. You will be able to trust her again, over time, if she speaks honestly with you, and hears and respects your boundaries while pursuing her needs. In particular, if you are not ok with something she needs, she needs to tell you before she acts on that need, so you can decide if you want to stick around for it.

I'm sorry. You both have hard decisions to make, but try to discuss them openly. If you can't get your needs met with one another, it'll be better if you at least discover and decide that fact mutually, rather than turning on each other.
posted by ead at 3:52 PM on November 22, 2013

It is far easier to rebuild trust in a marriage when the cheating spouse is not "caught," but rather s/he proactively makes a confession to you, and acts like s/he's willing to do the work to earn your trust again.

Frankly, your wife sounds most sorry of all that she got caught. I also don't think she's telling the whole truth.

In your shoes, I would assume that the truth is she's had sex multiple times with Mr. A, and I would go see my doctor and get tested. If I ever had sex with her again, I would use condoms. I'm so sorry. You deserve to hear the truth so you can grieve and make some tough decisions.
posted by hush at 3:59 PM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm so very very sorry this is happening. You know about the Surviving Infidelity forums, right? Given your desire to receive internet-based support, those might help. (I haven't read them closely so can't vouch exactly.)
posted by salvia at 4:25 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really benefitted from the Surviving Infidelity forums when I was in similar shoes.
posted by Lescha at 5:28 PM on November 22, 2013

You might be able to trust her if she was doing everything in her power to stay in the marriage. As in marital counseling and completely and utterly dropping A out of her life.

She is not doing any of these things. She instead still wants to live in your house and fuck A. Don't trust her. As someone else said, she's only sorry she got caught.

Honestly, keep on with the counseling and talk to a lawyer. Don't fall for this "open marriage" crap because it will just be that she lives with you while she fucks A, still, only now you know about it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:39 PM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm not sure I could ever trust again after a betrayal of this magnitude, but if there were to be any chance of it, it would need to be founded on one or more major gestures of good faith from the betrayer toward the betrayed and the relationship. It doesn't seem like you're getting that here. Couples counselling seems an obvious and reasonable step toward reconciliation and the fact that she isn't agreeing to that is, to me, not a great sign.

The other thing that seems to be a major obstacle to re-establishing trust is the progressive revealing of the affair as you found out more. Only you know you wife and how she deals with difficult stuff - my partner deals with almost everything by pretending it doesn't exist until absolutely necessary, though she is very honest and honourable - but it doesn't augur well that she didn't own up to it when you first talked to her about it.

No matter how unhappy she might be with her lot, how sad and difficult that might be for her, or how common such behaviour might be in some circles, dealing with her difficulties by being unfaithful is extremely shitty.

I think I would probably need to work out what my bottom line(s) would be and present this to my partner, respectfully but clearly as not negotiable. An 'open marriage' would not be anywhere amongst the things I would accept. Nor would any kind of ongoing contact with your former best friend.
posted by mewsic at 5:49 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If, and this IS a big if, IF she decides to stay and re-build the trust she ruined, you do have to give her some space to do so. It is a hard, fine line to walk when she is already so clearly untrustworthy, but you do have to give her some faith (IF she is committing to working on BEING trustworthy) Did she sleep with A? I don;t know. You don't know. She may or may not have. If she did, ideally she would tell you, but... can you go the rest of your life with her denying it, or honestly claiming nothing happened? She needs to do alot, but, like I said, you can't squish her efforts at good faith is she gives them. What she did is hurtful and hard and all sorts of problematic, and it really will take both of yall working to fix it... if that is what yall both chose.
posted by Jacen at 6:32 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just a quick suggestion, since you have gotten so much good advice already. You should get tested for STDs, just in case. It might provide you some peace of mind.
posted by annsunny at 7:54 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

You've received a ton of good advice, so I just wanted to add: I also don't believe that nothing physical has happened between your wife and 'A'. When caught cheating, people will often only admit to what has already been discovered/can be proven.

If I were you, I would proceed on the assumption that she has probably done a lot more than she's admitting to.

I'm very sorry for what you're going through.
posted by Salamander at 8:47 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You sound like a great guy, and it sounds like she's being really selfish. It seems like either way, something is going to change because it has to. Either you are going to change your lives and live somewhere that makes you happy with jobs that make you happy and you'll be happy, or you're BOTH going to commit to the marriage and do whatever it takes (therapy included) to get on track, or you are going to get a divorce and have to deal with that. Continuing as is or having an open marriage are obviously not solutions.

I agree with the first comment -- making some serious changes (and perhaps getting away from "A") may be the best shot. But she has to want it and she has to commit -- otherwise, it doesn't matter what you do. And even if you stay together, you may never trust her again and this may be over anyway. That's something I imagine you will figure out in time. Good luck.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:49 AM on November 23, 2013

I feel that the request of an open relationship is a red herring. I feel it's her way of saying, "I'm not ready to let this other relationship go, and I have no intention of stopping what I'm doing, so how about you let me do it anyway with your blessing, instead? Sounds good, right?"

Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel that's what it is. Otherwise, why suggest it? I imagine that if you put your foot down and said stop, she probably wouldn't stop. Because it feels good and she just doesn't want to. And I agree with others who say that it stands to reason she's done more with this guy than she's claimed.

It sucks, but, crawling back from that is tough. Look, things happen. We're human. Mistakes are made. Other people are alluring. Flirting is heady and hard to resist sometimes. I don't think cheating should be excused, but I do think life isn't black and white. And that there sometimes is a way to come back from infidelity stronger and better as a couple.

But-- and this is a really big but-- I don't think this is one of those times.

If she really, truly cared about the relationship, she'd really be doing everything she could to show you how much she regrets her actions. As others have said, she'd be transparent and willing to work with you. Not shunning couples therapy, and requesting an open relationship. Moreover, she wouldn't have lied when you confronted her in the first place. She'd be devastated at the realization she could lose you; this should be motivation to alter her current behavior. I don't see this reflected in her actions. I wonder if she thinks that you'll stick by her come what may, and it makes her feel like she has no real consequences. I personally think you really need to show her that her actions have repercussions.

I don't think you should take the emotional fall for her behavior, by either putting up with her desire for an open relationship, and swallowing your hurt with it by being the cool husband. It's not being 'GGG' -- it's being a doormat and used. You deserve much better.

I can't favourite what Asparagus and others have said enough. You really need to ask what you want and whether you can endure a relationship where you may not be able to be both happy and together. It may never be like it was, because like it was, was maybe broken for her-- and you didn't realize. Again, if she is willing to do the hard work, of course you can come back from this as a couple. But if she isn't... well, really, I'd prepare for the worst. And it might seem kinda cold, but generally that means lawyering up.

Lastly, as others have said, it's not your fault. Cheating generally has very little to do with the person being cheated on.

I am so so sorry that this is happening to you. I know how devastating it must feel, but remember that eventually it will lessen. Hang in there.
posted by Dimes at 1:17 AM on November 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your wife doesn't really want an open relationship; she wants permission to have the relationship she previously hidden from you. Those are polar opposites, and the "open relationship" thing is a red herring. Ignore it because it is distracting you from the real issues that are alive and well and thriving in this marriage.

I am nthing the Surviving Infidelity forums and FAQ. Reading through the FAQ may help you see that there is a path through this other couples have survived. (There's a lot of shorthand there: A = affair, BS = betrayed spouse, WS = wandering spouse, NC = no contact, OW/OM = other woman/man, OC = other child.) I think you are going to have to make major changes (job change, no contact with the neighbour, possibly moving, transparency in her communications) to make this work, and that you're going to need a lot of support.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:12 AM on November 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I like to think I'm an open-minded, Dan Savage GGG guy but this might be too much for my jealousy and insecurity issues.

Several people have alluded to this, but to make the point outright: "good, giving, and game" is about what two people do together. It is not about cheating.

Also, I don't really see your "jealousy and insecurity issues" in this question. Yes, you are jealous and insecure in this relationship, but that's because you have reason to be. All those times when your "spidey sense" tingled because of your wife's friendship with the other guy? That wasn't irrational jealousy borne out of insecurity; that was your gut telling you something was not right, and it wasn't.
posted by lunasol at 7:56 AM on November 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would say that she is being selfish except that she seemingly is contributing a huge amount to your shared relationship in a way that she despises. She SAH, which she doesn't want to do but it works for your family, right? She moved where you want to live, where you have connections and a past and a full-time job. She is desperately unfulfilled and unhappy but you both have been treating that as an acceptable trade-off for your life.

Well, it's not. This is the shot across the bow, the warning light, the flashing indicator. Things need to seriously change and it has nothing to do with who she sleeps with.

Figure out how to be truly, genuinely, ENTHUSIASTICALLY supportive of your wife doing something, anything but molding her life around you and your shared children. She doesn't want that. She has been telling you she doesn't want that, but obviously not hard enough, and you haven't been listening.

If she won't participate in that process, fine, but if she will? Then throw yourself into it and yes, continue to expect her to be monogamous if that's what you want and what she wants.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:57 AM on November 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

It doesn't sound to me like your wife has any sincere regret or remorse for her semi(?) affair. (Saying sorry in the moment you get caught doesn't count.) You don't describe any desire for significant change on her part, or any significant concern for the hurt she has caused you.

You ask how you can trust your partner again. It's a nonsensical question when your wife still obviously wants to be with A instead of you. You would be stupid to trust your wife unless something substantial changes, and any professed change can't be taken at face value after repeated lies. The only way you're going to regain trust is with a long period of changed behavior, not words.

The fact that she was, years ago, discussing her crush with B and the importance of B helping keep you in the dark says that your marriage has been falling apart for a long time, longer than you seem to think.

You appear to be rather a doormat. Even here you are talking repeatedly about her happiness and her fulfillment, and are teetering on the verge of letting her hook up with A under the excuse of an open relationship, even though you know it would destroy you and end the "marriage". Nobody respects a person who kisses the boot that has just kicked them in the face. I am putting this a bit rudely, sorry about that, but you have to wake up and change your own behavior here, whether it is somehow salvaging this marriage or in some new relationship later on. Find your self respect, have some expectations, have some standards, and be willing to stand up for them.

It doesn't sound like your wife has any real interest in being married to you any more and is just hanging on out of inertia until one of you finds the nerve to end it. That said, if your wife was willing to make major life changes (say, moving to a new city) to save the marriage, I would give it a chance, mostly for the sake of the kids. If your wife only wants to carry on as if nothing happened, your marriage is over.
posted by mattu at 12:11 PM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your wife has been unhappy for a while. It's possible that she doesn't want to participate in marriage counseling because she's scared of her own feelings.

It sounds like you've accepted your wife's unhappiness as long as all the burden was on her - the compromises in her time and values, your absence as an everyday partner in household chores. She was kind of sucked into the suburban housewife cliché and she did the cliché suburban housewife thing. She found an outlet and now that her unhappiness is affecting you, you are motivated to make changes.

I'm not trying to apportion guilt or blame because these things are complicated. I'm saying this because for the sake of your kids you need to work on yourself and on the relationship whether or not the marriage remains intact.

The choices that each of you made and that you made together have consequences. The fact is that even if the romantic part of your relationship is more or less over, you might all do better in terms of finances and relationships with the kids if you don't rush to both divorce and separate. But you do need to take care of yourself and make good decisions and I'm so glad you're in therapy for that.

I still think it's good advice to speak to a lawyer though not necessarily in an angel of vengeance kind of way. But you need a clearer understanding of what ending your marriage (separately from your romantic relationship) could risk, in terms of custody and child support fights, compromises, and sacrifices, and in terms of alimony.

IANYL TINLA. If she got primary custody and found a good job in another part of the country, especially near her extended family, a court could well give her permission to move with the kids, putting you in the position of needing to decide whether to sacrifice *your* career interests and move to be close to your kids. But either way it could be a tough and ugly fight.

Basically no matter what, if you care about your kids you will be stuck co-parenting with her, and that's why I think you need to be very deliberate and slow. You're a parent now - maybe your first priority can't be deciding whether you'll ever have romantic trust in your wife again, but needs to be, how will you best continue to provide a (or maybe two) loving and stable home(s) for your kids.

Is your marriage salvable? I don't know whether it's possible, or at what cost emotionally, or what compromises you are able or willing to make. Now you have a clearer than ever view that your happiness and hers are deeply intertwined (which would to some extent continue to be true as long as you coparent with her). You can't control her and it turns out you don't even know her as well as you thought. So you need to get clarity with yourself, your priorities, and your needs, whether she goes to counseling or not.

How do you deal? I think time, therapy, and thoughtfulness - towards you but also towards the children and towards her. You may need to make some real sacrifices, as it sounds like she has, if that is in line with your values about parenting and your children. Most of all I want to emphasize to not be in a rush to get things settled. Urgency causes emotional missteps that can have resounding compounding effects that make divorce needlessly ugly and painful when it is already painful enough.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:46 PM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just a point of clarification: even though you certainly share responsibility for how the relationship was going, it's not "your fault" she cheated. She could have handled her unhappiness in many ways. I'm not saying this to minimize her unhappiness or your role in the relationship. But during rough times like this, it helps to be scrupulously clear about each person's perspectives, feelings, and actions. It helps to compassionately question what feelings and thoughts led to the decisions that each of you made, while keeping clearly in mind the agency of you both.

I say this in case you're the kind of person who might jump to some conclusion like "she DID do things that made her unhappy to help me! It was my fault she cheated, so I can only blame myself and shouldn't feel bad." That way of thinking smooshes together a whole context of thoughts, feelings, decisions, actions, etc., on both your parts. All of that needs unpacked, not smooshed together. Among the things that need examined are a number of actions and decisions that she unilaterally made about getting romantic with this guy. I'm not harshly judging her or anything, but the fact is that there are a lot of different ways one could deal with unhappiness.
posted by salvia at 9:14 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

"I like to think I'm an open-minded Dan Savage GGG kind of guy but this might be too much for my jealousy and insecurity issues" --- this is totally separate from your wife's infidelity issues.

It sounds like you want to be seen as the cool & hip guy, and therefore this is one of the things you feel you ought to believe..... cool & hip guys have certain beliefs and mindsets, and open marriage is one of the things they're supposedly all into. Not true, actually: REALLY cool guys think for themselves, and don't just go with whatever is fashionable. So: you're busily trying to project an image of someone who is okay with open marriage, while in reality you aren't. You've got enough problems, please don't add lying to yourself.

The whole question of open marriage is the very last thing you and your wife should be considering: first comes working on your marriage, including couples therapy plus possibly separate therapy for your wife. It'll probably be best if your family makes a complete break from A and his family, too: no contact at all.
posted by easily confused at 4:57 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's over. She bent it, hard, covered it up, then lied about it. You should take charge and break it off.

If you're going to reconnect, do it from there, with you taking her back on your terms, not from this 'Well, you seem to have taken the thing with A better than I thought, so I might maybe start screwing other guys, you're OK with that, right honey?' utterly shit-house position you're in now.

Just...Jesus, man, right in the feels. My chest aches reading this.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:55 AM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Late to this post, but speaking as a woman in an open marriage.

Your post went into a lot of detail about what might be making your wife unhappy: she's a feminist who has only been able to find part-time, unsatisfying work, she hates feeling like a housewife, etc. I wonder what *her* post might have been about. How is your sex life? Does she interpret your introversion as detachment from and/or disinterest in her?

You two have known each other intimately for 20 years. No one on this forum can really speak to who either of you is individually or together. We only know you both from what you've typed.

I believe Dan Savage's take on this sort of thing is that it *can be* forgivable if the rest of the marriage is worth saving. But that's up to you and your wife.

rtha above made some very, very good points about your wife's poor communication skills. If she's unhappy in her career / life, she needs to be able to bring that to you and the two of you need to come up with a plan to solve that problem. Maybe it's a 5-year plan, maybe it's something you can't think of yet, but you'll agree to brainstorm possible solutions. She needs to come to you with it, and you need to be a person she can come to with it.

The same is true for any other problems in the marriage. She needs to get a spine and stop running away from being honest with you. The fact that you're willing to go to couples' therapy bodes well for your openness to hearing her, but you need to be on guard that you are providing a space for her to be heard, and not, as someone above pointed out, treating therapy as her penance. Again, I don't know either of you, I'm just pointing to some possible traps in all of this.

Long-term monogamy comes with challenges that lots of people don't talk about and most people accept the default of monogamy unquestioningly. However, whether they know it or not, every married couple out there defines their marriage every day. Monogamy requires just as much conscious effort as polyamory, but many people assume you can just coast along in monogamy and then they get mad when people step out of that model for any reason. I'm not talking about you getting mad at your wife for lying to you, which is unacceptable, I'm talking about people on this forum getting mad at the cheater without realizing that in a mononormative world, it can be very, very difficult to believe that marriage can in any way be flexible--and I mean that not necessarily sexually, but in terms of career and self-realization generally. Human beings continue to grow after they get married, and 20 years is a long time.

Non-monogamy can take many, many different forms. Some people swing together, some form triads (or various polyhedra), some have emotional relationships outside the marriage, some have no-strings-attached flings, some just get some strange on business trips, some have a policy of don't ask, don't tell. But yes, there are two sides to the open relationship issue: you get to do what you want within the rules set by you and your partner, *and they do too.* So there's jealousy *and* freedom. Both partners have to show up, be *honest* about their needs, be willing to compromise, love each other, and believe there's a relationship to be had with each other that's worthy of all that effort.

I've been with my husband for 15 years. We are two years into our open relationship. There was no cheating prior, but there was in my boyfriend's open marriage by his wife. They made the transition successfully. Perhaps I can get him to write something up and I'll post it here on his behalf.

You have been through a lot. You have some strong, perfectly legitimate, feelings. The best advice I've seen on here is "take your time with this." I agree that kids can't be the sole factor in staying together. My experience in my relationship has been that through difficult times (unrelated to the open marriage arrangement), there were moments I wanted to leave, but there was never a whole day where I knew, in my bones, that it was the right thing to do. That's my litmus test. I suggest you come up with your own.

You've got difficult work ahead. Kudos to you for getting help with it. Here's wishing you strength and wisdom.
posted by MeFiElf at 6:14 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

...and here's a response from my boyfriend, who had a very similar thing happen in his marriage.

The word "poly" is short for polyamory or polyamorous.


Hi, Anonymous. MeFiElf's married boyfriend here. Your tale gave me a strong sense of deja vu: I came to polyamory from an astoundingly similar background, via an astoundingly similar turn of events. My wife and I are still happily, openly, married; I'm speaking up to offer a counterpoint to those above who say say it can't be done in your circumstances. It isn't impossible, though neither is it easy.

A year and a half after I found out about their relationship, she typically spends a couple nights each week out with her version of "A", and the rest at home with me. The two of them go away for a long weekend every few months. He and I have grown to be friends along the way. Sometimes the three of us hang out and talk comfortably about poly issues or normal everyday stuff, sometimes we argue about balance and scheduling and such. It has taken work, but, fundamentally, it's playing out well for us.

If that scenario sounds horrible, you can skip reading the rest of this and just put your divorce lawyer on speed dial. I certainly don't want to tell you to open your marriage if your heart screams not to. But if it sounds like a future you two could be happy in, well, maybe you should give it a chance. It's true that it could end in a messy divorce, but it could also prevent a messy divorce, or, at the very least, it could allow you to walk away later with the peace of mind that comes from knowing you really tried.

Here are a few insights I've found useful in my own situation.

* My wife didn't do what she did to hurt me. She fell in love. Did I really want to let myself hate her for falling in love? In every story I've ever read, trying to keep lovers apart is villain's work.
* Speaking of stories, there are a bazillion narratives in our culture about the various jealous paths available to you. Folk tales, mythology, movies, blues songs, you name it. (The only counterexample I could ever think of was the Arthurian legend.) The jealous narratives are so loud it can be hard to figure out what your desired path is. Like others have said, be patient with this decision.
* It's common for the person in your shoes to drive the cheater away by expecting endless reparations while holding themselves blameless. Cheating rarely happens in a vacuum. There is a complex web of responsibility behind this, and some of the strands lead back to you. Others lead to her - okay, so be it. If you're going to stick with this, spend your energy on the future, and how you can build something that allows a return to happiness and trust between the two of you.
* I've come to view monogamy as something of an autopilot or an anaesthetic in my own history. Now that I'm poly, I certainly feel more, across a broader spectrum, and less predictably. It's scary, some times, but numb wasn't exactly the best life I could imagine either, you know?

If you have questions or just want to talk through this with somebody who's been there, I would welcome a conversation via private MeMail. You can get my handle via MeFiElf if you need it.

Above all, good luck to you, Anon, whichever route you take.
posted by MeFiElf at 7:15 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

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