OK, you caught your spouse (perhaps literally) with their pants down. What should your next move be?
The women below rightly considered their husband’s affair a horrific betrayal, but felt there was enough good both in the man and the relationship that it was worth not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Rather, they determined to work through the damage with their husband and come out the other side.
Here’s how they did it:
“We took a post-affair second honeymoon”
Debbie (all names in this story are changed) was understandably “devastated” when she discovered some suspicious charges on her husband of five years’ American Express bill. Confronted by his wife, Ed cried and confessed that he’d had a three-month-long affair. He’d felt distant from his wife for a long time, but admitted it wasn’t a good excuse. He also swore he’d broken off the affair two weeks earlier. Debbie, 36, mother of two, said, “I screamed, cried, threw his clothes out the window, and told him to leave. He begged me to reconsider and work things out.”
After the couple spent time soul searching, and Ed agreed to total transparency, Debbie made a surprise move: “I suggested we go away together for a weekend. The only ground rules were it would be up to me to initiate sex, and also that the subject of the affair was off the table.”
They went to a B & B, and returned refreshed and newly committed to the marriage. The reason this change of scenery and concentrated alone time helped forge a new beginning was the couple were able to remember what it felt like to have fun together, that their relationship had deep roots, and was about more than being parents. They reconnected physically — no sex (Debbie wasn’t ready) — but cuddling.
Recalls Debbie, “There was no anger or recriminations during the weekend, just closeness and caring.”
“We discussed the affair in short bursts”
After Barb’s husband confessed the one-night stand he’d succumbed to on a business trip, she reflected and decided his terrible mistake shouldn’t destroy 15 happy years together.
Understandably, in the first weeks nearly every waking moment was spent dissecting each detail of his infidelity. Barb, 45, says, “I had a lot of questions and Tom kept his promise of being open and willing to patiently tell me everything I wanted to know.”
Eventually it began to seem counter-productive for conversation between the two to be, as Barb recalled, “all-affair, all the time.”
In session, I suggested that outside of therapy they set a time limit of 30 minutes at a time for affair talk. “Otherwise it can take over your marriage,” I said, but cautioned, “This doesn’t mean the talking shouldn’t continue. Barbara needs transparency and honesty and to know all her questions will be answered.”
The couple enforced this boundary and within months, Barb found she didn’t even need the full half hour. “Things began to normalize.”
“I looked at my role”
Em and Pete are both clear that he is the one who cheated for six months, the one who broke his vows. (She discovered the affair after a friend confided she’d seen Pete with another woman at a restaurant.) However, after several months of couples’ therapy during which Pete expressed ongoing remorse and a commitment to doing whatever he could to repair the marriage, Em was able to admit, “I bore some responsibility for what happened as well.”
The 44-year-old said to her husband of a decade in session, “I wasn’t in a good place emotionally, I started pushing you away when you wanted sex, and I stopped talking. I should have opened up that I was experiencing depression but I shut down instead.”
Em is now on antidepressants. She is also determined to keep the lines of communication open with her husband from here on in. “Obviously I’m not glad Pete cheated but in a lot of ways our marriage is stronger now than it was before!”