Can you help a husband survive his wife's affair?
August 2, 2007 10:17 AM   Subscribe

My wife had a months-long affair and I've given her another chance. Any suggestions for getting rid of these awful feelings?

You know those feelings...anger, jealousy, shock, betrayal. When I research the subject looking for advice or catharsis, it's either always from the female point of view or it's a bitter hate filled screed. Oh, and then there are the innumerable "pray and it'll go away" sites, but I'm past that thankyouverymuch. I'm also constantly lashing out at her, and that's not helping the situation any.

We don't believe in therapy, and she says she's going to rededicate herself to our relationship instead of giving her intimacy to somebody else. I believe her, and that's why it's worth it to stay together (plus, you know, the kids) the only thing that needs to happen here is for us to create a loving environment, and now I'm the blockage to that. But every day that I feel better about the situation and have convinced myself I have forgiven her, I remember how much hate and anger I have and the cycle begins anew.

So about therapy..I've been there before and it didn't help. It's a person to talk to to get stuff off your mind, and I already have that. I just desperately want to find piece of mind.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
How long ago did you find out? If it's been months and you still feel this way, I'm not sure if it will change... and if it does, it will never be the same.

AngstFilter: That being said, it will never be the same. No matter what. You can convince yourself that you will get over it, but unless you have amnesia, you will never forget it. You can forgive, but you cannot forget. So when you hear, "blah blah 'time heals all wounds' blah blah" - ignore this advice and come to grips with the fact that it'll probably always hurt.
posted by banannafish at 10:24 AM on August 2, 2007

I'm in the camp that people CAN change. If your wife puts in the effort to figure out what was in her that led to her betray your trust, you may have an easier time forgiving her.

It is difficult to forgive the person that harmed us, but if that person changes and becomes a "better" person, we can let the old person go.

Honesty will help you through the days to come. And, I believe, you can find peace of mind again. Good luck.
posted by strangememes at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2007

Yeah, it's going to hurt a bunch. I'd suggest talking. A lot. That's essentially what therapy does, opens up a dialogue. If it were me, I'd want to get to the heart of the problem and get to a point where you both understand what each other is feeling, and why, about all of the different facets of your relationship.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2007

A good therapist is more than a person to talk to to get stuff off your mind. A good therapist will parse your statements and feelings from a learned perspective, and give you objective opinions and ways to attain what you're seeking.

I've had several exes cheat on me, mentally and physically, so I speak from experience. It sounds from your description of the situation like you're attempting to sequester your perfectly valid feelings. Please don't. Continue to talk to your wife about how you're feeling, but also consider finding a therapist (not friends or family) for individual or couples counseling.
posted by Shecky at 10:35 AM on August 2, 2007

We don't believe in therapy,

At some point in almost everyone's life, they have to get over this, if not to help themselves, then to help a loved one help THEMself.

If you tried therapy and it didn't work, you didn't have the right therapist. If you went to the barber and got a bad haircut, you wouldn't spend your whole lifetime afterward cutting your own hair, would you? Whoever you're talking to now may be very supportive, but may not know the first, second, or even third best ways to help you through this. You're hurting, get help.

I'm glad you have given her another chance. I hope your relationship continues to evolve.
posted by hermitosis at 10:39 AM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

We don't believe in therapy, and she says she's going to rededicate herself to our relationship instead of giving her intimacy to somebody else. I believe her, and that's why it's worth it to stay together (plus, you know, the kids) the only thing that needs to happen here is for us to create a loving environment, and now I'm the blockage to that.

Just to get this out of the way: you are not the blockage to creative a loving environment. She made a very unfortunate choice, and your feelings are natural and appropriate, not a "blockage."

You were betrayed, and nothing is going to make those feelings go away quickly -- nor should they go away. In a lot of ways, your relationship with your wife is starting over, because the foundation of trust on which it was built has been destroyed. If you suppress or otherwise avoid the feelings you are having, you'll be rebuilding the relationship on a brand new foundation of denial, and it won't last.

Better, then, that you are open and honest about your feelings, with her and with yourself. Don't be afraid to say "I'm sorry, but today I'm feeling very angry about the whole thing, and so I don't want to snuggle/make out/go shopping with you." Don't be afraid to express yourself, and to have these feelings. Own them. Embrace them.

Then, recognize that what you're doing right now is grieving, because your old relationship is lost. Your new relationship, however, might be an amazing and wonderful thing! That's what you're both sticking around to find out (and for the kids, which is awful in some ways, but personally I'm really glad you're taking your children's happiness into account -- many people do not in these situations.)

There are three components that will need to be in place for your new relationship to thrive: time, trust, and respect.

Respect: she cheated on you, and you took her back. It's entirely possible that you can't respect her (at least not yet) because she had the affair, and she can't respect you (at least not yet) because you took her back. Your ally in regaining that mutual respect is...

Trust: she lied to you, so technically she doesn't deserve your trust; if you don't trust her, that's perfectly natural and expected. At the same time, she has an awareness that what she did hurt you, and you might tell her things are "fine, great, terrific" but she won't -- and shouldn't -- take you at face value; how does she know you're not going to stick around until the kids are 18, then suddenly all the money's gone and you're gone too, out of long-played revenge? There's really only one thing you can do, and that's wait for the passage of...

Time: If you're expressing your true feelings, she'll learn to trust you over time; if she's telling you the truth, you'll learn to trust her over time; once you've earned each other's trust, you'll likely earn each other's respect as well. THEN you will have a good relationship again.

So, in summary: please don't look for a shortcut. Let things proceed naturally, trust your feelings and your instincts, and don't be afraid to be honest about your feelings; after all, she screwed this up, not you, and if that means she has to live with a cranky and unhappy person for a while, that's just fine.

Good luck, and hug your kids for me.
posted by davejay at 10:44 AM on August 2, 2007 [12 favorites]

What individual therapy does is give you a safe space to examine and sort out your feelings without doing further damage to the relationships in your life. Do that, by whatever means you do believe in.

You cannot use your wife as your therapist, though, that way lies madness (and also punishment, which isn't the way to go forward), so I hope that when you say you "already have that" you mean somebody else. You cannot live your whole relationship for months or years doing nothing but talking talking talking.

You have to live a life together that is a real life and not a 24-hour therapy session, or you guys can't rebuild all those bridges. You're going to have to find forward motion even while you heal, or it's not going to work. You are in a new relationship now, it just happens to be with the person who left you with a shitload of baggage from your last relationship, and also you have a home and children together so it's real hard to take it slow.

It's going to hurt a lot. It would hurt a lot if you left, too, so that's not to say that you've made the wrong choice.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on August 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

So about therapy..I've been there before and it didn't help. It's a person to talk to to get stuff off your mind, and I already have that.

What about your current methodology is working so great?

Therapy may or may not be for you, but I would suggest you re-examine your assumption about what it is. You're also presuming failure because it didn't work in the past, when I assume you had different problems and goals.

If nothing else, consider whether you'd write off medicine because you'd been to one doctor and failed to have success. Like any other field, psychiatry has a wide range of quality.
posted by phearlez at 10:47 AM on August 2, 2007

At some point in almost everyone's life, they have to get over [not believing in therapy]...

I'll second this. I wasn't a big fan of therapy, but finally (after a couple of years of depression while working at a job I hated in order to get a particular insurance benefit) I sucked it up and went.

The end result after several sessions was her telling me, essentially, that she wasn't surprised I felt this way about my situation, because my situation was awful -- and so rather than medicate or work on my feelings, I should just focus on changing the situation.

This was great, for two (surprising) reasons: first, I *knew* that ultimately it was the situation I had to deal with rather than myself, so I was afraid a therapist woud focus on me (and I wouldn't be able to trust that approach) -- and it turned out that the thing I needed to motivate actually changing the situation was an outsider looking at it and validating my viewpoint.

I had the work situation fixed in a few months (without changing jobs, even) and everything was excellent again. So don't be afraid of therapy.
posted by davejay at 10:48 AM on August 2, 2007

Ug. I went through what you're going through right now. But instead of lashing out, I turned it inwards and just became really depressed. We tried couples therapy, but we were at totally different places and perspectives and I suppose we'd been lying to each other or hiding things from each other for so long that it wasn't really salvageable.

I found out about the affair by looking at her computer and seeing emails between she and her lover. After I confronted her, she broke it off, and we agreed to try therapy. But I was increasingly paranoid and ended up hacking her computer and online accounts and found out that she started seeing him again.

Once that foundation of trust has been eroded, I think it's really like you have to build a new foundation, based on mutual trust and respect. Therapy might help with that ... we never stuck with it long enough to find out whether we could salvage anything positive.

But a good therapist should do more than just listen to you talk s/he should provide insight, help you get to the root of the problems in your relationship, help you each understand your expectations of yourselves, each other, and the relationship, and give you some ideas on how to start to rebuild.

Kids definitely make everything that much more difficult. And the desire to make the relationship work for the sake of the kids is a noble yet unrealistic goal.
posted by indigo4963 at 10:50 AM on August 2, 2007

Funny story about therapy:

When I first hooked up with my wife, a good friend of hers threw a party. She wanted it to be a party attended only by people who had attended therapy, so they could sit around and talk about their therapy, presumably. Before my now-wife could even raise the possibility of bringing me along, this friend* pulled me aside and said that I wasn't allowed to come, in a tone of voice usually reserved for small children who want cookies they cannot have.

I told my now-wife, of course, who basically laughed at her and refused to go to the party. I suspect my wife's therapy at the time was going much better than her friend's.

*she managed to prove in many other ways that she wasn't a very good friend, or person for that matter, so she's long since been ejected from the scene.
posted by davejay at 10:53 AM on August 2, 2007

I'm going to reinforce that you are acting on some mistaken notions of therapy. A good therapist pursues a rigorous method, repurposing your present emotions into methods that can transform your life in the future. This is worlds different from "a person to talk to to get stuff off your mind" -- in fact, it's somewhat the opposite. A good therapist puts useful stuff into your mind, stuff that helps you rewire in a healthy way.

You may think we're being stubborn or unhelpful by hitting the therapy point over and over, but from an outsider's perspective the opposition to therapy sounds stubborn or ideological or both. I wonder if what you two are afraid of isn't sitting and talking purposefully rather than just winging it.

As for "getting rid of" awful feelings, that's as hopeless a task as "getting rid of" the sadness you would feel if someone you love died. Don't bother trying. Those awful feelings are now a part of your life. Right now they might feel all of your life, but if you do it right you'll incorporate them into your life and move on. You don't want a psyche built on unreality, and the reality is that your wife is demonstrably capable of, and willing to, break faith with you. Now what? It's better to face that question head on than pretend.
posted by argybarg at 10:55 AM on August 2, 2007

Better, then, that you are open and honest about your feelings, with her and with yourself. Don't be afraid to say "I'm sorry, but today I'm feeling very angry about the whole thing, and so I don't want to snuggle/make out/go shopping with you." Don't be afraid to express yourself, and to have these feelings. Own them. Embrace them.

Well, I might not go whole-hog on "embracing" your feelings, but you need not be ashamed of them. One thing that a good therapist can help you with is expressing those feelings in an appropriate way. By appropriate, I mean in the way that davejay mentions above. If you express your feelings by outburst ("You *&%#! How could you do this to me!"), it might make you feel better in the very short term, but it does nothing to further the interests you say you both have: to move forward and learn to deal with the situation as it is now, and the people you are now.

A good therapist is a shortcut to helping you identify patterns of behavior (good and bad) and deal with potentially destructive feelings and actions before they become actually destructive.
posted by rtha at 11:02 AM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just want comment on the therapy side of things. It is much more than someone to talk to. It could be someone to help you realize that you need to change behaviors, or have certain conversations, or make certain decisions. And then help you with how best to execute those items. For example, mine tells me when I've over-reacted in a given situation, serves as a "life coach" of sorts, helps me with how to constructively argue/resolve, and helps me determine what steps I want to take next to improve a situation. He is anything but passive and in my opinion, that's how it should be.

If your last therapist was just "someone to talk to" then I highly suggest you try to find a new one and be clear about your goals and objectives in doing so: "My wife had an affair and I've given her another chance. I would like to get rid of the feelings of anger, jealousy, shock, and betrayal and find peace of mind." Your goal is to reach the other side, not just discuss the current situation, and a good therapist can work with you on how best to do that.

It might take a few tries to find the right therapist, but stick with it. I wish you luck, regardless of how you choose to proceed. :)
posted by ml98tu at 11:06 AM on August 2, 2007

The part that jumped out at me the most from your question is this:

I'm also constantly lashing out at her, and that's not helping the situation any.

The comments above about embracing your feelings, and communicating, and all that, are good and should be listened to. But what you need to do (and only you can do this -- this isn't waiting on an action from your wife, or validation from the therapist, or anything else outside of yourself) is stop being hurtful to her. Whether "lashing out" means yelling and calling her a bitch, or becoming physically aggressive towards her or yourself, those actions are directly and immediately preventing the recreation of a loving and caring relationship.

I'm not saying "don't be angry" -- you will feel angry and betrayed for a long time to come. But if you are serious about making the relationship work, you need to get in control of your actions, and act like the husband you wish to be. Forgiving, much less forgetting, may be a long way down the road. But in the present, what you can do is put a brake on the outbursts and displays of anger.

Again, I'm not delegitimizing those feelings -- they're valid, and you deserve to feel them, and to an extent to express them. But if you want to make things work, you will need to stop punishing her (which is what you are doing when you lash out) and start simply treating her with respect and kindness. She may be a bad person, and she has committed a "crime" of sorts against your marriage and your trust. But if you want to continue, you need to stop punishing her and instead focus on rehabilitating the relationship. (If you want to punish her, stop yelling and instead get a lawyer, sue for custody, take her to the cleaners, and so on. But it sounds like you don't want to go down that path, and I think that that's an admirable choice.)

How you do that will depend on your personality, your needs, and your situation. Sublimation of those feelings into exercise or work or playing with your kids will work for some people; others need the outlet provided by therapy; others can do it all on their own. There is a lot to be said for cliches like "take a breath and count to ten before saying anything," or "go for a walk around the block when you start seeing red," and if you can make something as simple as that work for you then great. This, however, might be where a (good) therapist will be your best ally, by providing strategies and techniques for finding a decent and humane course through the emotional minefield that will be your everyday interactions for the coming months.
posted by Forktine at 11:20 AM on August 2, 2007

I'll give you my standard line about therapy: It's like moving to a new house. At some point in life, you might end up having too much shit to ask your friends to carry it all for you.

Whether or not you are at that point, only you can decide.

And couples counseling is more about learning to communicate with each other. If you shop around and find a good counselor, you will have an arena to learn to express the awful feelings in a way that could be productive instead of destructive.
posted by expialidocious at 11:23 AM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Forgiveness doesn't happen over night. It's a process. It may takes months or even years to truly forgive her, but always keep your heart open to it.

I wish you all the best.
posted by JaySunSee at 11:23 AM on August 2, 2007

Generic relationship-fixing advice: Every night, after the kids are abed, or are at least sufficiently sequestered to not need more than a moment's attention down the road, crack open a bottle of wine with her and try to drink at least half of it, doing nothing else but talking, with an effort to be in a better mood when you're done for the evening than when you started. I think two people who care enough about each other to be in a monogamous relationship can get through most any problem if they want to and they give themselves the opportunity to talk. It's when you're too busy to have this kind of intimate time that things start to slide.
posted by blueshammer at 11:29 AM on August 2, 2007 [4 favorites]

There are different kinds of therapy, don't forget. I believe that all of the kinds without exception are first and foremost a PItA, but I can't dismiss the fact that several times I've had recourse to "therapy" (I hate the word, too) of one kind or another and figured something out shortly afterward. So if you don't believe in therapy because you tried psychoanalysis or T.A. or whatthehellever, and it was the usual, namely dumb and embarrassing, then you might try a different kind and have a better experience.

Can you think about things you valued about the relationship when you thought it was exclusive besides that it was supposedly exclusive? I mean to say, if the worst-case scenario came to pass and it turned out that your wife for some reason couldn't or wouldn't be monogamous, would you still want to stay with her for her other qualities? Eliminating outside considerations like, "but people would consider me weak for staying," what would you want most? If you decide that you wouldn't want to leave her even if she breeched trust in this way again, it could save you some heartache. Monogamy seems to be hard/impossible for some people, and it could be that she's one of these people.

A lot of people have a relationship rule against physical violence--if it happens once, that ends the relationship. I think if you decide you have a relationship rule on monogamy, it has to be just that strict: cheat once and the relationship is over. If that isn't the rule, then there should be no rule, because policing the marriage is too hard on the wronged partner. She's either out now or she's forgiven for this and future relations with other people. Otherwise you'll spend the rest of the relationship monitoring, and that will suck.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:33 AM on August 2, 2007

Another thing: lashing out will only prolong the forgiveness process. If you're yelling at her, or even worse - physically abusing her, it's not worth it. It's time to get out.

I'm hoping it's not that bad, but we're all human and relationships can be fertile ground for bad habits and bad memories.
posted by JaySunSee at 11:35 AM on August 2, 2007

The intimacy advice is important, but I think also, that is dependent on both of you being really, truly willing to make this work, and being willing to make the effort to not get all emotional and weird, but stay in a place that allows clearheadedness and compromise. I think that's probably going to be the most difficult thing.
posted by mckenney at 11:37 AM on August 2, 2007

Okay, if you don't believe in therapy-- do you have a priest/minister/rabbi/etc you can reach out to, if that's more comfortable for you than "Therapist"?

Because what a counselor can do for you in a situation like this is not just sit there and listen, stony-faced, but be a mediator, guiding the discussion between you and your wife into avenues that heal, instead of just hurts more.

It's really hard to talk about things like heartbreak and betrayal and infidelity without lashing out, and it's really hard to get attacked without getting defensive and shutting down. But if you want a helpful dialog about this, one that can actually move your marriage forward and help you get back into emotional intimacy, that's what you have to do. It's tough to do that when it's just the two of you, because you feel horrible, and she feels guilty, and there's a lot of blame and self-doubt to go around.

I'm not in the school of thought that all talking between angry couples is good: in fact, I think that two angry/guilty/hurt people being "totally honest" to each other in the heat of the moment, without wise, impartial guidance, is pretty much a recipe for disaster.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:45 AM on August 2, 2007

At some point you and she are going to have to step back and look at how the two of you got into this problem. "I swear I'll never do it again" rings hollow to you because it is hollow unless you identify andwork on the underlying issues that made the affair seem like a good idea at the time. This is something that each of you will want to examine independently before exploring it together. It is my personal opinion that a good therapist or other trusted "referee" (priest, mutual friend, whatever) can act as a mediator at this point, making sure you each stay on target rather than just lashing out with whatever hurtful thing comes to mind.

Lots of people have said lots of good and true things about therapy, so the only thing I will add is that if you get a therapist, make sure that the majority of people someday "graduate" and don't need him/her anymore. Sure, there are some people who will always and forever need to spend an hour each week getting their head straightened out, but if you aren't taking medication for mental health issues, chances are you aren't one of them.
posted by ilsa at 11:49 AM on August 2, 2007

I have a bit of experience being cheated on, but I've never been married. That being said, I agree with the folks that believe people can indeed change. Every time I was cheated on, I changed profoundly.

I tend to believe that the kind of change brought on by a catastrophic event is very deeply imprinted in one's conscious and subconscious mind. While a person may indeed want to change, they might have to battle with their own subconscious to make the desired changes.

Whether the catastrophic event is in the form of discovering a lover's infidelity or in admitting one's own, one's natural defensive response will tend to position us in such a manner so as to avoid future pain.

What I am getting at here is that change has unquestionably occurred. One must be stark and unemotional in evaluating whether there is a realistic chance of both individuals reconciling their newfound differences as the people they have become, not as the people they were before the catastrophic event.

The "you" that you have become may not be able to get rid of the bad feelings for your spouse while in her presence. You may indeed be able to forgive her, but only after moving on. Tragic, but I believe it to be true.
posted by nickjeswald at 11:54 AM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

It is absolutely possible to be your own therapist, and I understand where you are coming from.

The trick is to be willing and able to step outside, metaphorically - to be objective about the situation.

You've made an excellent start here, in describing your "lashing out" - that is the Vulcan talking, and he is able to throw some icewater on the thing and look at it in a cold logical way.

What I am about to outline is entirely possible, if you are both committed to making it work. You can indeed be one anothers' therapists, and that can deepen and strengthen your bond. I've successfully councilled both of my ex-wives during the process of separation, and it has made our love, although now platonic, even stronger. I am counselling my current woman, and it is helping us grow together and undertsand one another in a way a stranger just can't provide on a paid hourly basis.
  • Do what blueshammer said above. You love each other, right? What could be better than spending quality time with the one you love, the mother of your children?
  • When the bottle is empty, have sex. Have a lot of sex, often. Romance one another. There is nothing like lots of satisfying sex to keep people happy and in love.
  • When you see yourself lashing out, let Mr. Spock have a turn, he can fix things. "I just called you a slut, and that is because I still feel so bad about the time you were cheating on me. But being angry at you now won't move us forward. Please know I love you, and I am saying these things because it is still so hard to be fully open after that betrayal. But I know that you are committed to me now, so I hope you can understand and help me move on." Also notice that the more often you drink wine and have sex together, the less frequently the bad times will reemerge.
  • If you feel there are still big obstacles in the way of open and honest romance, tenderness, surrender to one another, then you need to let Mr. Spock set up goals and action points that both of you can agree on. This might be things like "We need to hug and kiss every day, and share our feelings," or "You have to help me feel safe by not having extended contacts with other men, at least for now" or " If other men turn you on, share it with me and let's make it ours, together, in the bedroom," or whatever...the two of you need to thrash this out. Also notice that with enough intimate time and sex, these things will quickly fade into the background.
Good luck, anonymous. Although I am a priest, I am not your priest and YMMV. If you would like me to be your priest, email is in my profile.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:08 PM on August 2, 2007

Nthing the whole therapy thing. I was a skeptic, but not all therapists are the same. Some just talk to you, which doesn't work for me. Others give you a strategy for dealing with emotions and difficult situations. I don't think of it as therapy, I think of it as training, a kind of emotional fitness exercise.

But, since you are against it, you could try to retrain yourself, to figure out how to avoid unproductive behavior. You have to break the cycle somehow, whether it is turning to therapy, self-help books, a hobby like cooking, family boardgames, a vacation, or morning walks with your wife. You have to make some sort of change. Something terrible happened and you need to readjust your environment to break the association.
posted by melissam at 12:18 PM on August 2, 2007

You are in a closed system with a large problem. If you don't want consistent outside help you are going to have a difficult time separating out what is working and what is BS. You believe your wife has rededicated herself, fine, good. But, you also believed she wouldn't do this in the first place. Depending on your situation you may be both over-wary and more vulnerable than you realize. Provoking not only the lash outs, but selective blindness. It is up to you, if both of you refuse therapy of any sort it will be much harder to get to where you are going, sure it is possible, but so is sawing down a tree with a bread knife
posted by edgeways at 12:48 PM on August 2, 2007

Couples therapy and individual therapy are very different things.

A couples therapist can be extremely useful in helping you and your wife get some outside perspective on your ways of relating to each other. You and she have to be the ones to make the changes, but a therapist can help you mutually agree upon what's needed. He/she can see things more objectively than either of you (and has probably seen many other cases like yours before).

Couples therapy feels awkward at first, but it can be extremely valuable -- don't reject it if you haven't tried it.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 1:10 PM on August 2, 2007

I think it would be very constructive of you to put some effort into shifting your view of the situation. As you've presented it, your wife cheated and wronged you, and you have taken the high road and forgiven her. In other words, she is the 'bad spouse' and you're the 'good spouse.' I'm not trying to impute sanctimonious motivation to you - but what I am suggesting is that as long as you see things this way, every interaction you and your wife have will be skewed. And I have a hunch that you'll have a hard time respecting her (which, as others have aptly pointed out, is essential) until you can see her as an equal, and not someone who 'owes you.'

Take, for example, your "constant lashing out." Is it possible that some small part of you feels she deserves to be lashed out at because she cheated on you? That because you were good enough to offer her forgiveness, she ought to put up with it? These feelings are understandable, but they're not productive. You need to really clean the proverbial slate and give your wife the benefit of the doubt that she is ready to start over as well. Look at this more as a situation you both have to work through rather than a personal affront, because really, that's what it is - something is broken in your marriage (that's "your," plural) and you're both going to fix it. Together, as equals.

P.S. - A good therapist will make this a whole lot easier.
posted by AV at 1:33 PM on August 2, 2007

I've not been in a situation like this, but I watch a lot of TV. Here are some possible suggestions that may or may not work in the real world, but hey, they're not therapy.

You've agree to continue the relationship for the sake of yourselves and the children. I assume that's conditional upon her permanently ending the affair. But if that's the only condition, maybe you feel like it's not fair.
People seem to really want their relationships to be fair. Having the affair threw that off. Maybe you don't feel like the current situation gives you enough to feel like you've been recompensed for the affair. Ask for consessions. Do you want more time to yourself? Her to take over a responsibility that's currently yours? Sex whenever you ask for it? A boat? Time and funding for a hobby? For her to no longer be allowed to complain about your clothes or friends?

It's a little crude to renegotiate the terms of the relationship, but maybe that's what it will take.

Alternately, you could start a rock band. Or some other hobby/outlet that gives you a life that you enjoy and treasure to supplement your homelife. If your homelife and worklife aren't doing enough to make you happy, maybe this crisis is an opportunity to follow some passion you've neglected. Write that book now and pour your guts into it.

Maybe you need to flirt more. Or exercise until you're a gleaming Adonis. I'm hearing lots of buzz around Krav Maga.

Do you know what the most important thing in the world is to you? Find out.

Most of the above you could have gotten out of watching American Beauty.

One thing from my life that may help is day trips. We go on day trips as a family 2-3 times a month. We call them adventures. Maybe we'll drive to a museum, festival, concert, historic site, event, whatever, somewhere within 2.5 hours of our home. We spend the day exploring a new world as a family, and always have an interesting time. It seems to change the context enough from the day to day grind of responsibilities, conflicts, finances, blah blah blah, that you have at home to really put your head in a new and open place. I can't recommend this enough to any family. It's the time I most value, and I think that's true for the rest of my family. I have learned so much, and we've all given so much to each other by doing it. Hell, my 5 year old has already climbed a mountain, been to a rock concert, and played in a 3-story tree house. The 9 year old has so much experiential knowledge a community college should give her a degree. Put that in your marital strife and smoke it.

Good luck.
posted by putzface_dickman at 1:35 PM on August 2, 2007

What doesn't always come into focus in discussions like these are the darker parts of our beings, that want retribution for being wronged, and on the other side, expect that doing a fixed penance ought to earn a new respect. Suppose, in fantasy land, you could demand retribution from your wife, saying even that you could beat her in some fashion that would excise your rage and hurt, causing her pain, but not gross damage. On her side, by allowing you to do this, she could be sure that all your "rights" to recrimination and anger were over, and in accepting pain you inflicted, she had earned a new respect from you, to replace that which she'd lost.

Would you beat her? Would she want to take the beating?

Socially, in mainstream society, we've long since dispensed with physical and corporal punishment, believing them brutish. We don't flog prisoners, and for the most part we don't paddle children, any more, believing, in the main, that physical punishments neither edify those who wrong others, or provide retribution to the wronged. Those may be valid points, but there is something in many of us that wants justice in the form of physical retribution, just as there is something in many who transgress that wants a way to earn forgiveness, certain.

I'm not suggesting you beat your wife. Nor am I suggesting she should get forgiveness and new respect unearned. But I do think you may need to acknowledge the power of the anger and resentment that can grow up in a relationship, when the demand for retribution, and the need for respect rear their heads, but remain unacknowledged. And you need to work out a way in your own hearts, and in each other's, by which a new foundation for your relationship can be made, as there is no returning to the old one. Your children may be part of that, as is a new mutual respect you develop on any number of grounds. But before you get there, you are going to have to get through the anger, resentment, and shame this affair has exposed in each other. And that is ugly, hard ground that you can't just fly over, though you might well wish you could.

Sometimes therapy is the only safe place in modern life where such "primitive" parts of our selves can be faced.
posted by paulsc at 1:36 PM on August 2, 2007

First, you must stop lashing out at her. It is a sign of weakness. It merely makes you look pathetic, and every time you do it, some of whatever remorse she feels is transmuted into contempt for you, and it will not take long for her to decide that anything is better than the dreary, pitiful wallowing you cannot seem to get beyond. You are not one of her children.

Next, make sure you have drunk this bitter cup to the dregs. You mention you have children; do whatever is necessary to reassure yourself that her children are also your children.

Then, realize and accept that it will take time and experience to be able to learn to love this strange person that you only thought you knew. In the meantime, I think you could try loving her through the medium of the children you have together. It is in her aspect of mother of your children that I think you will be able most easily to start loving her again.

Finally, I think the two of you need to set some goal for your family as a whole that you can work on together. Ideally, you would have another child. You may feel you cannot obliterate the memory of the other man from your wife's mind or body, and you may be right, but I guarantee you a baby will.
posted by jamjam at 1:49 PM on August 2, 2007

I don't know you and you don't know me, so don't take this personally. I'm not attacking you personally, just playing devil's advocate.

Sometimes when people cheat, they do so because they are profoundly selfish and/or stupid.

Sometimes people cheat because they feel emotionally disconnected from their lover, and are actually seeking companionship as much as physical gratification.

What your wife did was reprehensible, and you are entitled to your anger.

However, if there is something in you that needs fixing, something that may not have caused her infidelity but perhaps made it easier to rationalize, then you need to get that thing fixed, or you may find yourself in another situation (infidelity or not) that causes you great pain. And all of this in addition to the great pain that you are feeling, pain you may need help processing, and without processing that justifiably pain and anger, it is always going to be hard to be equals in the relationship because you will always have that Dark Side of the Force to call upon when she makes you mad ("So I forgot to take out the trash. Well, at least I never CHEATED on you.")

It seems to me that the very hardest thing to do is to take her back, and you did it. As far as I'm concerned, that puts you into an elite upper echelon of husbandhood. Therapy, for all its facets, may help immensely, and has to be easier that what you have already managed to accomplish.

I mean, you raised the (emotional) money to buy a Rolls Royce in trying to work it out. Don't put generic tires on it.

Whatever you decide, I truly wish you all the best.
posted by 4ster at 1:57 PM on August 2, 2007

"We don't believe in therapy"

Uhh... why not?

Wouldn't the fact that your wife hid her feelings from you and had a multi-month affair signal something to the notion of "We should really get into therapy?"

Or even better, "We SHOULD HAVE BEEN in therapy."
posted by travis vocino at 2:02 PM on August 2, 2007

Finally, I think the two of you need to set some goal for your family as a whole that you can work on together. Ideally, you would have another child. You may feel you cannot obliterate the memory of the other man from your wife's mind or body, and you may be right, but I guarantee you a baby will.

No, no.

That is not a good idea. There is a long and storied human history of people having babies "to save their marriage" and then splitting up when the baby is about a year old. Don't be that family. Don't force some poor innocent kid to be the messiah who was born to save the marriage and failed.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:08 PM on August 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

Please, I beg you, do not have another child in the hopes of rekindling feelings, fixing the marriage, or any other such reason.

Please don't put that burden on a tiny human being at conception. And please realize that if your wife is feeling insecure about herself, or trapped, or underappreciated, or unattractive, or any of the other common reasons women have affairs... childbearing will make those problems worse, not better. I speak as a mother.
posted by ROTFL at 2:22 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, I might not go whole-hog on "embracing" your feelings, but you need not be ashamed of them...

Rtha, in my own mind I equate "embracing" with "not being ashamed of", so we're in total agreement there. And actually, about everything else you said as well; I thought about mentioning some of what you raised, but thought it was implicit in what I'd written -- looking back I was totally wrong, and it needed to be said explicitly. Thanks for your comment.
posted by davejay at 2:27 PM on August 2, 2007

AV presented half of the advice I was going to give, and better than I could have probably.

The other thing I would suggest is refocusing. In the beginning it will be an almost physical effort, like relaxing each part of your body as you're trying to go to sleep.
When you have hurtful or angry thoughts, give yourself a second or two with those, then remember, you've been over them, felt them, acknowledged them. Refocus and think about the last really good thing your wife did for you, think about the last time you laughed together, shared something wonderful, maybe even just a hug or quiet moment. Or focus on something in the near future that you're planning to do together--dinner, playing with the kids. You're going to do this hundreds of times, and it's going to be hard, but with enough practice it becomes second nature, forgiveness itself.

Activity can help too. If you find yourself overwhelmed with rage, take a brisk walk, even just a 15 minute walk. Lift some weights. Sublimate into activity and let your body take over and lift you into an almost mindless, meditative state.

Good luck. This sort of thing is tough to get over. Plenty of us have some idea what you're going through.
posted by digitalis at 2:30 PM on August 2, 2007

Finally, I think the two of you need to set some goal for your family as a whole that you can work on together. Ideally, you would have another child. You may feel you cannot obliterate the memory of the other man from your wife's mind or body, and you may be right, but I guarantee you a baby will.

If there was a way I could anti-favorite this, I would. Everything ROTFL says above is 100% true. Having a baby is HARD, and even the best relationships suffer; anyone who goes this route, odds are you'll just break up the relationship faster, and simultaneously you'll create a child who now has to live his whole life dealing with the fallout of that.
posted by davejay at 2:31 PM on August 2, 2007

Response by poster: Finally, I think the two of you need to set some goal for your family as a whole that you can work on together. Ideally, you would have another child. You may feel you cannot obliterate the memory of the other man from your wife's mind or body, and you may be right, but I guarantee you a baby will.

This is the dumbest advice in the world. Please don't follow it.

Look, your wife did some other dude. That is fucking terrible. You are huge for taking her back. And you are right to feel rage and sadness at her betrayal. But because you took her back it is now on your head to try to forgive her. Forgiveness is not making her actions OK. Forgiveness is understanding you cannot change her past actions, she can't change them, and no amount of anger or rage will change them. If you want to pursue your life with her you must pretend you are starting anew and learn to fall in love with her again.

Also, have you tried Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? It's a more goal-oriented version therapy than simply of talk therapy. Though it sounds like what you need is talk therapy--you and your wife need to hash this shit out in front of an objective mediator.
posted by Anonymous at 2:43 PM on August 2, 2007

Finally, I think the two of you need to set some goal for your family as a whole that you can work on together. Ideally, you would have another child. You may feel you cannot obliterate the memory of the other man from your wife's mind or body, and you may be right, but I guarantee you a baby will.

Oh man, please don't try this. I have a friend from high school who took this route with her husband not once, but twice. They would have problems, separate, and decide what they really needed "to bring them together" was a new baby. Now they have three kids under the age of five and are separated (again [again {again}]). A baby is not going to fix this. The idea of a shared family goal is okay though. A better family goal might be, "let's eat dinner together four times a week" or "let's take a few hours every weekend and go to the park/play games/go to the zoo" together."
posted by ml98tu at 3:24 PM on August 2, 2007

Just to pile on the pro-therapy heap.

Therapy is not just having someone to talk to any more than a doctor is someone to tell your symptoms to. A good therapist takes what you have talked about, and formulates a treatment plan.

Even better than a friend, a therapist can see what you are missing objectively, and give you practical steps to help you move toward having a more fulfilling life, whether the marriage survives or not.

A therapist also gives you someone to be accountable to. If your therapist gives you an assignment, you know when you go back next time, they will ask about it.

So, do consider it. Sorry for your situation, and good luck.
posted by The Deej at 4:53 PM on August 2, 2007

posted by flabdablet at 6:48 PM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Rtha, in my own mind I equate "embracing" with "not being ashamed of"...

Right-o, davejay - I was pretty sure that was what you'd meant. Just wanted to shout loud 'n clear to OP.

Still shouting: DO NOT have another kid to "fix" things. Ignore that advice.
posted by rtha at 8:30 PM on August 2, 2007

Finally, I think the two of you need to set some goal for your family as a whole that you can work on together. Ideally, you would have another child. You may feel you cannot obliterate the memory of the other man from your wife's mind or body, and you may be right, but I guarantee you a baby will.
posted by jamjam at 1:49 PM on August 2

Please do not think of children as a convenient solution to your personal problems. They are real human beings who will have to deal with your fucked-up life.

This is without a doubt the absolute worst advice Ask Metafilter has ever seen. Suggesting murder-suicide might have been wiser and more responsible.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:08 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I vote for therapy. Hell, asking us counts as therapy of a sort. The best way to approach it IMO is to find one who'll speak to you together, and separately. Some things you can't bring yourself to say in front of the other spouse, and the therapist will, if they're good, be able to help you deal with those feelings.

My advice: you need to change your view of her. Rather than being all hurt and miserable about how she did you wrong, realize that she came back. She had a choice, you know. Still does. Your wife has the right to leave you, and you have the right to leave her. Her not exercising that right should mean a lot more to you than it apparently does.

Whatever went on in that affair, it didn't work out. She was obviously dissatisfied with you in some manner--that you had damn well better work on if you can, if it's in any way real and not just a misperception of you--and so she went looking for someone else to provide that, and found out what she had with you wasn't so bad after all.

If your wife confesses to you she has had an affair, hurtful as it is that she has done this, you ought to be pleased that she cares enough about you to believe that you have a right to know the truth. That's quite a compliment. Most married people do have at least one sexual encounter on the side in the course of their marriage, and do not tell their partners about it. Why would you? Only reason I can think of is: she thinks you have a right to know. Why would she think that?

Let me put it another way for you: There was a contest for your wife's affections. She's the judge of that contest. You won. Now what do you want to do? Remember all the things you used to love about her, the reasons you married her in the first place. All the good things she's done for you in the course of your marriage. Review the bad, too - specifically not this affair, but everything else she does that's annoying, petty, awful, cruel, stupid or wrong. Do you love her anyway?

If you don't love her, then you need to realize divorce has been coming a while and this affair is a symptom, not a cause. Stop reacting territorially, she isn't your territory, she's a human being; if you're bad for one another then realize that, divorce, and move on. You have the right to do that.

If you do love her? Honestly, truly? Then forgive her. And man up enough to ask her whatever it was you did, or didn't do, that drove her to an affair in the first place, and sort it out.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:57 PM on August 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

I haven't read all the above comments, so this may well have already been said.

I was in a similar position and no amount of talking about it or thinking about it was helping. I'd forgiven her (in words, at least) and seriously wanted things to improve, but couldn't rid myself of the thoughts that were poisoning my mind.

In the end, I went camping for a few days by myself. One day I walked down to the coast, stood on a cliff above the ocean, and felt the wind tearing across the water right into me. I opened my arms and wished for all the anguish inside me to be gone. I decided to let go of it. And it went. It really was that simple.

It took a long time to get to that point, of course, but once I was there all I needed to do was see that it wasn't helping me, and choose to let it go. I can't explain it any further than that. If you honestly want to be past it, want to stop hurting, then choose to be past it. I don't know if it'll work for you, but it did for me and I'm eternally grateful for it.
posted by twirlypen at 12:44 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Think about what aeschenkarnos and twirlypen said, while walking.
posted by flabdablet at 3:45 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

And walk hard.
posted by flabdablet at 3:46 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I skipped to the bottom after the 15th description of why therapy is good. I'm a big fan myself. But if you're not open to therapy, do other things to get your thoughts out of your head and examine them, and to challenge your thoughts and give yourself new perspectives: write in a journal, talk to a minister or any other good listeners you know, read self-help books, read good fiction with strong characters, give yourself time to think (yeah, go walking or running, somewhere quiet and natural).

The analogy for me is composting -- if you just pile together a bunch of rotting food in a bucket, it'll fester and stink. But if you sift in air by turning the pile from time to time, it decomposes into rich soil. At that point, if you put it out in the sunlight, some of the seeds in the food will sprout again. So get your thoughts sifting with air and eventually bring it out into the sunlight.
posted by salvia at 7:34 AM on August 3, 2007

I aready yabbered about this but I have to re-yabber in order to say, man, don't play the blame game. When you married, you probably both said and honestly intended some version of, "For richer or poorer, in sickness and health, forsaking all others." Your wife was no doubt surprised and horrified to find that she must not have meant what she thought she really, really meant. If you were to be faced with a similar challenge, you could find yourself equally surprised and horrified. (You may believe in every fiber of your being, "I could never!" Nevertheless you don't know, and it can never be definitively proved that you could never.)

I find ominous the notion that somebody needs to crawl before a wronged party and do penance for the sin against the marriage. That may be true according to Napoleonic statutes, but according to how things actually work in human relations, being made to crawl creates destroying resentment. Do you guys want justice? Or would you rather remain married?

Besides, there's babies here! They don't need to witness one of their parents punishing the other. I don't think it's true that it was some flaw in you that drove her to commit adultery. I don't think she is flawed, either. I think the flaw is in the ungenerous and litigious traditional conception of marriage. The vow ought to go, "For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others and forgiving [her] tresspasses." It is extremely important not to stray, but it is also important to remember that straying isn't always proof of bad character or bad faith or a bad marriage. It frequently happens because we are animals to whom not straying is not natural. That adultery has always been the one, always reliable "get out of wedlock free" card (people have been denied annulments for relatively minor stuff like physical abuse) is some evidence that the marriage vows have got a few wrinkles we need to iron out beyond that "obey" thing.

You and your wife and your children are more important, collectively and singly, than keeping to the letter of this old law. Make your family safe however you best can. Splitting would be more protective of everyone involved than staying together and suffering until love festers and bonds become broken and unmendable. Flabdablet is right about walking.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:15 AM on August 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

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