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Between the two of us, we’ve lived a lot of life, made a lot of mistakes, learned from them, taken the wrong path, taken the better path, had our share of successes. Four marriages, two kids, vastly different professional paths, multiple chronic illnesses, and crazy full lives. Each issue, we'll tackle questions we think many of us can relate to, some with depth, some with humor, and all with love. Learn along with us to do this life the best we can.
Dear Asking For a Friend,
My husband and I have been married for 8 years. We’ve recently had some job changes which has meant longer than usual hours and travel for both of us. In the past several months, my husband has grown a little distant and I have just been telling myself when things settle down, everything will get back to normal.
I recently noticed a social media app on his phone that I wasn’t aware he had. He is not the social media type and when I asked him about it, he became evasive. After the kids were in bed, I pressed him further and he confessed he had been using it when he traveled to look at pornography. And, on one trip, used it to message with another woman. He said as soon as he started messaging with her, the gravity of the situation hit him and he immediately stopped.
I am completely devastated. I know things have been tough lately, but I would never imagine my husband would cheat on me. While I know some people would think I am overreacting, even looking at the pictures feels like cheating to me. Worse yet, the chat just makes me feel like I don’t even know who my husband is anymore. How could he do this to our family?
He said he is deeply regretful and will do anything to fix this, but I’m not sure how he could. I have always believed if I was ever cheated on, I wouldn’t stay. Now that I am in the situation, I just feel broken and stuck. If I stay, I feel like I am teaching our girls to be a doormat and if I go, I am changing their lives forever. What should I do?
Dear Feeling Lost,
First, I don't want to ignore the obvious. This sucks and it is going to suck for a while. That is what is honest and real in this moment. But, it is important for us to move past the obvious and into actionable advice that may help you out of this stage.
Let me start by saying the definition of cheating is deeply personal and you can define it the way that feels true to you. That being said, it is important to note it may be helpful for you to look beyond the actual act of the infidelity to the causes of those events. The infidelity itself, while it may feel this way at the time, is not the actual problem. It is a manifestation of an unfulfilled need, whether individual or between the two of you (or both), that warrants further exploration. Getting to the root is what will allow you both to heal and move forward in whatever way you choose for yourself and for your family.
Regardless of what you ultimately decide for your marriage, it is important for you to find a good counselor for both individual and joint counseling right away. A good counselor will support both you and your husband in talking through the reasons behind the betrayal, its aftermath and your path forward. Despite your husband being the one to act, you each share a role in where your relationship stands today and you need someone who will assist you in examining this role without villainizing or blaming one another.
In this moment, it may feel like the world is ending, but let me highlight a few things you have going for you. Having a husband who is regretful, does not appear to be making excuses or casting blame for his actions and is willing to work towards healing with you are all very positive things. Your level headedness and willingness to consider all the potential paths forward are also all good things. You are in a place where all of your options are open and you get to choose how to proceed. And, that, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, is a gift.
If you and your husband choose to work through this together, you need to be completely bare and honest with one another about your feelings. Your husband needs to know your hurt about these events won’t go away immediately, though it will get better with time, and you need to be able to express those feelings whenever they come up. When discussing it, it is important to avoid blame or shame. Your husband needs to know this is not a mistake that will define him. Talk about how you feel and explicitly ask for what you need to feel comfort, trust and safety from him. Both you and your husband should be able to safely express your individual feelings about what happened in order to move beyond it.
You may have noticed I used the word “mistake” to describe your husband’s actions. This isn’t to trivialize the event, to reduce your husband’s responsibility, or to take away the intensity of the hurt or betrayal you feel. That being said, it may be helpful for you to reframe the way you label what happened. A mistake, by its definition, is an error in judgement and for most people it is something they don’t want to repeat. Based on your letter, your husband recognized what he was doing in the moment and did not want to continue. I wonder if it may be helpful to you to see this mistake as something you won’t allow to define your husband or define your relationship.
While I can’t (and wouldn’t) tell you what to do or how to feel about what happened, I do want to say a few things about your choices. You mentioned not wanting to teach your kids to be doormats. While your kids don’t need to know what happened (and I applaud you for waiting until they were in bed to discuss it in private), do know that you are implicitly teaching them that good relationships require work. Relationships are complicated, hard as Hell, so beautiful, and take constant adjustment and evaluation to continue to work well. While no one should remain in a relationship that is abusive or harmful, infidelity can be successfully worked through when you have two able and willing partners. You may find that the increased honesty, commitment and focus on your relationship can create a stronger bond for you and your husband over time.
We wish you a lot of love as you decide how best to move forward.
Asking for a Friend