How to prepare myself for potential future cheating?
March 23, 2016 2:38 PM   Subscribe

My spouse confessed to me that she had an emotional affair. It hurts really bad and I want to figure out how to learn and prepare in case it happens again.

Last year my spouse confessed to me that about five years ago, she had an emotional affair over email with a person that she previously dated. I immediately forgave her, for lack of anything else to say, but have accepted that in doing so, I short-changed my feelings, which came along later and are now coming and going in waves. Today I realized how much I have these frequent "is she cheating on me right now?" or "I guess I'm not that great and I need to do better so she doesn't do that again" or "will my doing X or Y trigger this behavior again" thoughts.

Worse, the person she was affairing with lives in our community here and has a sort of intermediate friend who has since told her that "guy you dated says hi". My wife thinks he knows what was happening. This intermediate person is a friend of the family and now I can barely talk to him without wanting to choke him out--I feel like he should know better than to be an adult and assist in something like that, especially since we have kids...ugh. But I really want to regain my sense of control around this.

I want to address these feelings in a smart way rather than just an emotional way (anger / depression) and prepare for the chance that my spouse's behavior may occur again. I do not want to be caught unprepared if this happens again; I want to take this head-on now (not in a confrontational way, but in a doing-everything-I-can-to-learn way).

I did later discuss the "coming and going in waves" and the various feelings with my spouse, and it went well, but she reacted by asking what kind of support I would like, and explaining that we were just in a different relationship back then--I was struggling with depression and she had lots of anxiety. I invited her to marriage counseling back then but she didn't like the experience at all. So I'm not sure what it is about us, but we are definitely both pretty stubborn. A friend pointed me toward Socionics and the "super-ego" relationship there has explained it best for me so far. However it basically says it'd help to be more relaxed, but I fear becoming a doormat, especially now that the infidelity has come up.

So I guess since my discussion with her didn't help as much, I really want to prepare myself more, if that makes sense. I'm not giving up on her, but I know it'd be unwise for me to step in and try to change her, even by changing "us". And in order to feel healthy, I know I've got to feel like I'm making positive steps. Maybe even setting better boundaries as we both have relatively weak boundaries (I'm just learning about this).

Books, new viewpoints, experiences, etc. would be very much appreciated. From viewpoints such as: self-development (how to make the waves go more than come), development as a couple, legal tips if something worse happens, etc. Or just "what would I be really smart to do?" in general. I want to dive into this so the fear doesn't move in permanently. Thanks!

P.S. Typically if I bring this sort of thing up with my spouse it feels like she explodes or gets really hurt that I don't trust her anymore. Then it takes days or weeks for the air to clear. I'm just realizing this is a fear I have. Ugh. I feel like even more of a doormat, but I'm really a stubborn strong person in other ways, so it's kind of confusing.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
First of all: Surviving Infidelity. The forums there are amazing with this, and take Emotional Affairs seriously. There is an entire system there to help you with exactly the issues you're struggling with. Second: get into individual therapy. You have a lot to work through, but healthy working through doesn't look like preparing yourself to be cheated on again.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:46 PM on March 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


1. I think you really need your own therapist to help you work through these issues.

2. "Typically if I bring this sort of thing up with my spouse it feels like she explodes or gets really hurt that I don't trust her anymore. Then it takes days or weeks for the air to clear. I'm just realizing this is a fear I have." -- That's bullshit. She is the one who cheated on you and if she wants to stay married she should have the decency to talk through these issues with you. Also, more generally, a supportive spouse should be interested in helping out when the other spouse is going through a tough time. Her sort of anger is very convenient because it shuts down conversations that she finds difficult. People who know they've done wrong but haven't dealt with their own issues often use these sorts of strategies.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 2:54 PM on March 23, 2016 [27 favorites]


Maybe it would be good to actually admit verbally to her, "You're right. I don't trust you anymore, and you exploding every time I try to discuss my concerns with you is undermining our marriage just as much as the affair originally did. I feel disrespected and taken advantage of, and I need you to do more heavy lifting emotionally to help our marriage get back on track so that I don't feel the need to question your behavior or emotions. I think we need to give therapy another try because you justifying your affair because I was depressed and you had <anxiety was a weak excuse then and remains so now. Are you still on board with being a loving and loyal partner? Show me."
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:56 PM on March 23, 2016 [65 favorites]


Well, here's a viewpoint. She and this other guy exchanged emails, not bodily fluids, five years ago, and you're still dredging it up. I think her exasperation might be a reasonable response.

I'm sorry your marriage isn't as perfect as you'd like.
posted by sageleaf at 3:07 PM on March 23, 2016 [15 favorites]


If you keep bringing it up then you will drive her to it again. You need to talk to a therapist on your own.

You also need to commit to being a better husband. Take her out on a date once a week, even if it's just a candlelight dinner on the basement floor, hiding from the kids, while they veg out in front of the television. Take long walks together, exercise together, eat better together. Put in the effort. She may not respond well at first, since she isn't used to it. You have to be patient and consistent to rebuild the trust that comes with a loving relationship. And you have to do it. You can't make her do it. You have to put in the work and hope that she sees something true in you that inspires her to put in the work too.

This is what being a good dad is. It is doing everything that you can to make sure that your children have a healthy, happy mother. If you aren't thinking about some way to lighten her load or make her smile every single day, then you need to start.
posted by myselfasme at 3:31 PM on March 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not your therapist and it seems like you should probably get one. But the way you phrase this, it almost seems like there's two underlying assumptions here:

1) she will cheat again someday
2) when that happens my plan is to hang on to this marriage like grim death despite the pain this would cause me

And what you're asking for, is, given those two facts, how to make the pain not bother you when it comes.

I dunno if that circle can really be squared. Because it seems to me like the reasons for one boil down to either 1) she will cheat eventually because we are both unhappy and this isn't working, or 2) she will cheat eventually because despite our marriage being good for both of us she is a selfish, shortsighted person who would be willing to hurt me in the right circumstances.

Life is complicated and I'm sure your marriage is too. I don't know if any of those assumptions are true, about you wife. But some version of them seems to be what you're operating under. But if neither of you are happy, or you can't trust her not to break your heart, then it seems like you need to figure out whether those things can be changed, rather than looking for strong enough rope to tie yourself down with so you don't flinch when the hammer comes down.
posted by Diablevert at 3:31 PM on March 23, 2016 [31 favorites]


I had a partner that cheated and we tried again and I always held something back and that doomed it. We bumped along for a while, I rejected a proposal, and then it failed. I don't wish I was with that person for a millisecond - my wife is literally perfect - but I wish I hadn't halfassed it like that.

You don't have to forget, but you have to recommit 100%, or else eject, in my opinion.
posted by ftm at 4:24 PM on March 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


I think I'm more lackadaisical about these things than most but to me, your wife voluntarily told you one year ago about something that happened five years ago and now you're worrying it will lead to an affair in the nebulous future...so my question is what is upsetting you right now, like why the possessive and enraged feelings about the third-party friend now?

Also, does that person even know about this? Because to me, your logic seems off...if this third-party friend is openly talking about Email Guy, s/he probably has no idea there even was an affair and isn't that a good thing?

What is going on in your life that leads you to circle these thoughts today?
posted by warriorqueen at 4:32 PM on March 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


First of all, I'm sorry you're hurting and stuck in a loop of toxic thoughts. The good news is that this can change.

When I first read the question, I somehow missed the "five years ago" part &, once I went back to reread it, I had an entirely different response. Of course, you are entitled to your feelings &, when confronted with something difficult, sometimes we respond how we want to be rather than how we actually are. So, we stifle our true emotions until they refuse to be stuffed down anymore. This sounds like what's happening here and warriorqueen asks some excellent questions. Right now you are being ruled by fear inspired by something that happened in the past. Try focusing on the present, instead, and see if you can identify what is amiss, outside of this. As mentioned by others, an "emotional affair" which occurred five years ago and was confessed to voluntarily doesn't seem to warrant this reaction a year later, so there are probably things about yourself, your marriage, or, most likely, both that need some attention. Talking to a professional who isn't your spouse seems to be your best course of action. As you grow, your marriage will evolve, too. I think you can work through this, and, if your marriage is otherwise solid, it will survive. Best of luck to you!
posted by katemcd at 5:04 PM on March 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


My impression of this is the following:
(a) You found out a year ago, stifled your feelings to be forgiving, and now it's backing up on you and you're freaking out like you found out yesterday and she was e-mailing the guy yesterday.
(b) For her, it's been five years ago, she's been done with it for five years, and she's kinda all, "What? You're still flipping out over e-mail feelings from five years ago when I didn't even boink him?"
(c) She's not super sympathetic to your exploding feelings under those circumstances. And didn't like marriage counseling. Basically, she's done processing and you're just starting.

For me this boils down to (d) I think you need to go to therapy alone and figure out your processing your feelings on your own here. Maybe not so much try to engage her on this since it's not going so well and you're seeing this from so opposite points of view for the time being.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:43 PM on March 23, 2016 [13 favorites]


Wow, lots of terrible advice in this thread. Two things:

1) Emotional affairs are arguably MORE SERIOUS than purely physical affairs. If someone has feelings for another person, it's much harder for them to cut off contact with that person (which is what needs to happen for the affair to truly end) than if it's only about sex. Love is a more difficult feeling to move past than lust.

2) DO NOT SACRIFICE YOUR SELF-RESPECT JUST TO TRY TO SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE. Your wife doesn't get to dictate the terms here, you do. This means you should freely express your true feelings to her--your rage, despair, fear, confusion, everything. Don't shield her from the consequences of her actions. THIS IS HER FAULT, NOT YOURS. If she doesn't want to work hard to repair the damage SHE caused, then take care of yourself and get out of there. Nothing is worth staying with a spouse who doesn't care how you feel.

Take care of yourself.
posted by a strong female character at 6:04 PM on March 23, 2016 [17 favorites]


Oh, and another thing. If you sincerely believe your wife will cheat again, LEAVE HER. Why would you willingly spend your life in anxious misery, just waiting for more heartbreak? You can find someone who won't cheat.
posted by a strong female character at 6:37 PM on March 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


If someone has feelings for another person, it's much harder for them to cut off contact with that person (which is what needs to happen for the affair to truly end) than if it's only about sex. Love is a more difficult feeling to move past than lust.

Well, that might be true for some people. And that is fine. But to give the OP some perspective, in my marriage it's really actions that count more than feelings. So conducting an emotional affair is bad news. But having feelings of love for someone else if you don't act on them outside of our negotiated boundaries, are just...feelings. They come and go and it's how we deal with them that make us ethical and connected (to each other) spouses.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:01 PM on March 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Thing is, most cheaters DO cheat again. It's possible for it to stop, but it takes an awful lot of heavy lifting on their part, which most aren't willing to do. They blame-shift, like she's doing to you.

You have a right to mourn, though not wallow, and a right to be cautious, but willing to try to regain trust... provided she's willing to DO her part. Not just say it, but actively make changes in an open, positive, way.

The ones that tell you that yes, the emotional cheating is worse in the long run, well, yes, it is. It's harder to heal from, and harder to rebuild, and even if it's one-sided, it's hella damaging to the relationship. Dude, a few drunk one night stands with random people are SO much easier to deal with than "the one that got away".

If she's not willing to do the work, get out. You AND your kids will be far better off in the long run, because they won't watch it destroy your family slowly and excruciatingly.
posted by stormyteal at 8:03 PM on March 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


Here are a few suggestions that I would give any friend of mine in this situation:

1. Get your own therapist. Discuss your feelings and work out steps for you to heal.

2. Talk to your spouse. Explain that the wound is newish for you and you need time to heal. You appreciate that she came clean, but you need for her to be understanding and supportive while you process this.

3. Decide whether you forgive her and if so MOVE ON and truly forgive her. If not, then you need to end the relationship. You can't dwell on it forever and constantly bring it up. If you want to stay together and move forward, set ground rules, let her know it'll take time to build up trust again, talk about it and get whatever answers your need, and then do not bring it up anymore. Follow the healing plan you set with your therapist and move on.

4. Relationships have ups and downs. If you were both in a bad place when it happened, it's not really surprising that one of you got close to someone else. It ended five years ago. She clearly felt guilty enough that she told you when she didn't really need to at that point. So take that as a positive, learn from it, set ground rules, and move on.

5. Read the five love languages book. Or at least learn about the concept online. If you didn't know about it, I truly think it has the power to transform and improve communication in any and every relationship. If it turns out you two speak different love languages, learn each other's and it'll do wonders. I promise.

Good luck. You will be OK.
posted by Georgia Is All Out Of Smokes at 11:09 PM on March 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Today I realized how much I have these frequent "is she cheating on me right now?" or "I guess I'm not that great and I need to do better so she doesn't do that again" or "will my doing X or Y trigger this behavior again" thoughts. ... I did later discuss the "coming and going in waves" and the various feelings with my spouse, and it went well, but she reacted by asking what kind of support I would like, and explaining that we were just in a different relationship back then--I was struggling with depression and she had lots of anxiety. I invited her to marriage counseling back then but she didn't like the experience at all. So I'm not sure what it is about us, but we are definitely both pretty stubborn. A friend pointed me toward Socionics and the "super-ego" relationship there has explained it best for me so far. However it basically says it'd help to be more relaxed, but I fear becoming a doormat, especially now that the infidelity has come up.

It sounds like you really want your relationship to work but don't have a clear understanding of what was going on then or now. I know that one attempt at couples therapy didn't work, but it can take a few tries before you find a therapist whose style clicks with yours. That's what I'd recommend: work to strengthen the relationship and your understanding of it overall.
posted by salvia at 12:38 AM on March 24, 2016


The more I think about this, the more certain I am that the amount of time that passed before she confessed to you is a big part of why there is such a disconnect between the two of you. Enough time has passed that she's presumably completely over this other person and confident that she isn't likely to stray again (she knows that it hasn't happened for years and she and the marriage are in a different place now). She's had plenty of time to think about herself and why she chose to engage romantically with an ex. Perhaps confessing to you was, for her, something that felt like it should be the final step in a process of dealing with what happened.

For you, of course, it was the first you realized she'd gotten that romantically attached to this other person, and then you further delayed things by shoving down your feelings (I don't blame you, it is a normal response to learning something painful).
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 6:51 AM on March 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think you need some serious perspective. Emotional infidelity is not the same thing as physical infidelity. Now, I would be more inclined to believe your argument that emotional (NOT physical) infidelity really hurt you if I actually believed that you were emotionally close to your wife at the time. It sounds like you were not, and not only that, you still aren't particularly emotionally close now.

There is a great deal of poor-me in this post. Have you ever considered WHY your wife needed outside emotional support? Are you a giver, or a taker? If you were depressed, did you expect her to cater to you all the time without ever catering to her? How often do you ask her about her life and her feelings? How often do you re-arrange your feelings and your problems in order to focus on her feelings and her problems? Were you doing that 5 years ago?

I strongly suspect the honest answer is no, you were not, and that is why you are partially responsible for this situation. You are not entitled to your wife's unwavering emotional support without giving anything in return. That's not how things work, despite what models of "old-fashioned" marriage you may have seen. No wonder she cracked under the strain.

The friend is an asshole, but that's a separate issue. Cut out that "intermediate friend" and never speak to them again.

Couples' counseling is a good idea IF you can make it about you changing and your wife's needs, at least partially. It will not go well if it's totally focused on you and your hurt and her apologizing over and over.
posted by quincunx at 7:25 AM on March 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


Affairs suck, emotional OR physical, and your feelings are valid. They are painful, and they totally shift our perspective on love and long-term commitment sometimes. And of course, the reasons why they happen are as varied as complex as they come.

But, they happen? I mean, it sucks, and it can change the primary relationship for the better, or break it apart, but they do happen. You guys have the opportunity now to discuss what kind of relationship you both really want, what that looks like, and together, decide "What happens if infidelity were to occur? How do we deal?"

So many people go into marriage just assuming monogamy, and assume it's also a one-size fits all. This is, often, just not the case. You don't own her body, or her emotions just because you're married, and she doesn't own yours. Would you want to?

Marriage is an institution like any other, and there are wonderful things about that structure that allow for commitment, intimacy, home/life building/children, etc - but it's REALLY hard to get married when you are 25-40 years old and often never have ANY other sexual or romantic inklings for the next 50-70 years. I mean, sometimes the whole idea sounds ... sweet but rather adolescent? Humans have a need for security AND change/adventure. We just do!

(I'm not saying everyone should CHEAT behind someone's back, but just saying the marriage/monogamy is a very strict system still in hetero couples, and worth looking at before just complying.)

Desire ebbs and flows, people DO have different attachments to different people, not one person can meet ALL our needs all the time, at every stage.

Still, it still REALLY HURTS and you guys should talk about it. I've been on both sides, I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but also... I think it GROWS you and your relationship in pretty amazing ways, IF both people can really have that conversation.

It sucks she can't hold more space to just calmly process it, because you def. deserve that. I hope you guys can find a good, safe space to talk and confront some of this. Good luck!!
posted by Rocket26 at 7:49 AM on March 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I can't believe anyone is recommending breaking up your family and making your kids deal with a divorce because your wife exchanged emails with someone several years ago. It's not the weirdest advice I've seen on here, but it's close.

Your wife EXCHANGED EMAILS with someone who filled an emotional need. She didn't go to bed with them. She was probably lonely and frustrated. She's probably lonely and frustrated now, if what you've expressed here is indicative of the way you engage with her. It doesn't sound like you care what's going on with her, or on making your marriage happier; it just sounds like you see yourself as some sort of... victim, like her loneliness was accidental, or something she did TO you.

How about instead of spending your energy wondering "is she cheating on me???" you arrange a babysitter and take your wife out to a show, or a hike, or something you guys would enjoy together and that gives you something to bond over, rather than driving more of a wedge, as the poking and misery is sure to do?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


You seem to be transferring the anger you can't express to your wife (because she explodes) on to the intermediary person. And it seems like you want all of the ways in which you can change yourself so that you'll be ok with being hurt and angry later. Neither of these are productive ways to deal with your (completely valid!) emotions around all of this.

I agree with others that talking to a therapist on your own may be the one best thing you can do to save yourself. Your marriage is likely to improve if you're in a better place yourself.
posted by ldthomps at 11:38 AM on March 24, 2016


Mod note: A few comments deleted. AskMe isn't a debate space, don't argue with other posters, and don't post many times in a row. Go ahead and give your good constructive advice and trust that OP can read and decide what's useful to them.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:29 PM on March 24, 2016


Other people's opinions on "how bad" something is are not very relevant, I think. Some people don't care about monogamy at all. Some care primarily about sex. Personally, I could forgive a one night stand much easier than a year-long emotional affair (even if "just" over email). But I add that just to show there is lots of diversity in feeling here.

I think one key problem here is you forgave her too fast, essentially. You didn't really forgive her, you weren't really OK, but you wanted to paper over it quickly. I've been there / done that. The problem is once you realize you are actually really upset, its hard to admit that. After all, you forgave them! You feel like you are basically stuck like that.

But you're not. You can talk about this with her, you can still take whatever actions you want (from simply finding a way to forgive all the way to leaving her, whichever ends up being most appropriate).

Since this is not a crisis moment (you have waited this long, you can take some time to think) I think you should find a therapist (Marriage & Family Therapist / MFT probably) who you can talk to about this and game out how you want to approach it.

It is a big deal to you, which means its a big deal. You won't be able to trust her or move on until you can admit to yourself and to her what it meant to you and what you want to do about that, which no one here can tell you (but someone you can have a meaningful, ongoing conversation with like a therapist could).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:10 PM on March 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


I feel you're question is a bit muddled. Maybe it's really two questions.

As others have pointed out, it seems silly to break up a family over some emails exchanged a few years ago. The normal response here would be to forget about it and never speak about it again.

On the other hand, you use the term "doormat" twice in your post for no discernible reason. So is this question a cry for help? As in "Look what she did to me back then and is likely to do again soon, can I please leave her now", but really meaning "she makes me feel like a doormat, and I need an excuse to leave"?

Are there any reasons other than the "emotional affair" (whatever that is) for which you are unhappy in your marriage now? If the answer to this question is yes, then by all means start thinking about divorce. Otherwise, stop being silly.
posted by Pechorin at 10:26 AM on March 25, 2016


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