Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I recently separated from my husband of 10 years after learning he was having an affair with a coworker. I thought we had a strong marriage. We were together for five years before we got married and we have two wonderful children together. From my standpoint, our marriage was happy. I felt like we were really open with each other, we always had fun, we loved traveling together and had so many exciting vacations, and after a decade we still had a really active intimate life — something that I can't say for many of my friends' marriages.
So when I found out about his affair — and not from him, she called me and told me — I was just devastated. I kicked him out immediately. It would maybe be more forgivable if it had happened just once, but it's been going on for several years. I feel like everything I thought was true about us was false. This affair has cast a shadow on everything. It's made cherished memories painful. It's turned my future into something scary and uncertain. And I'm trying so hard to shield and shelter my kids and to not speak badly about him to them, but they are crushed by his absence and miss their dad.
The awful thing is, I miss him too. I feel like everyone around me, from my family to my friends, is urging me to divorce him and move on. But it isn't that simple. I love him. He's my husband and the father of my children. This betrayal was shattering but he's begging me to forgive him and give him another chance. Part of me thinks I should just move on and start fresh — I'm afraid I can never really move past this. But part of me still can't imagine being without him. Am I crazy that I'm considering giving him another shot?
You're not crazy; you're human. And some of the toughest but most foundational tenets of love are the traits of compassion and forgiveness. But trust and respect are also bedrock of a healthy marriage, and in this case, both are drastically damaged.
First step: shut out the noise. The dilemma of whether to end or recommit to the marriage is your choice, and while the advice of friends and family comes from a place of love and concern, it's ultimately not up to them. Many couples survive infidelity, but recovering from this betrayal will take real work, vulnerability, honesty and, ultimately and obviously, forgiveness.
There are many schools of thought on how to survive an affair. The Gottman Method suggests you must commit to and endure three phases: atonement, attunement and attachment.
The first phase is just like it sounds: here's your husband's chance to grovel, and your moment to accept it. Should you survive that, the second phase is tough, a time for you both to accept and analyze your relationship's deficits and to evaluate the role you both played in creating an environment where your husband cheated. Finally, the third phase presents an opportunity to move forward truly together, like joint script-writers, where, should your marriage survive, you'll be able to see the infidelity as a crisis you jointly survived, and from which you forged a stronger union.
They've got the three As; I've got the three Ds – deception, disappointment and devastation. And they're not just inflicted on the blindsided wife. Everyone in this circle gets hurt – the wife, the loving children and the countless family members and friends. Heck, this breaks my heart.
And ultimately, it's all unnecessary. If those who plan to or are even considering cheating would just end the relationships they are in like honorable adults/caring human beings before moving on to their potential side pieces, these messes would be so much easier to clean up for everyone. But cheaters are fundamentally selfish, so that's never going to happen …
I know this is complicated and you want to do right by your kids. And of course you still feel love for him – he's been your trusted partner and best friend for what I'm guessing is the majority of your adult lives. But he's also been cheating for many years, which means he's also been lying, manipulating and living two lives for many years. And you would still be oblivious to it all and he would still be lying and cheating if his mistress didn't drop a dime on him. How can a cheater atone for that? And how can a cheated-on partner get over that level of treachery?
Maybe he has it in him and you have it in you. Maybe you can find the perfect counselor to help you navigate through this storm. But, more than likely, your husband is just a selfish, lying cheater who should never be trusted again. Which leads you to the fourth D – divorce. Whatever you decide, good luck.
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