Venus Nicolino holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships
Dear Dr. V,
To make a long story very short; I found out that my husband had cheated on me while on a business trip to Las Vegas. He confessed that it was “not intimate” but rather a “fling.” We’ve always had a trusting relationship but this really has thrown me. When confronted with undeniable evidence, he finally confessed. However, he said that he felt it would be hurtful to me and selfish if he said anything just to relieve his own guilt … which, in part, makes some sense. I don’t want a divorce and I do feel like we can overcome this but what are the consequences to him? What do I do with this information? How do I let him know that I can forgive him “this time” but if it happens again, there is no return?
I am so sorry to hear that you are going through this ordeal. I can imagine the cacophony of painful and powerful emotions ricocheting inside you now. Of all the problems a marriage can face, I think infidelity is perhaps the most difficult to endure and challenging to overcome.
At the same time, know that the depth of heart you demonstrate by maintaining the faith in both yourself and your husband to work through this and come out the other side speaks volumes of your character and compassion. I also think this shows you two do have a fighting chance of mending your marriage and emerging stronger as a couple. I’m deeply impressed and hope you are giving yourself the credit you deserve. Many people in your situation would not be as generous.
I think the first step for both of you would be to begin marriage counseling. You may also want to speak with a therapist or counselor independently as you might have your own issues that need to be resolved outside of the joint therapy. I would suggest the same for your husband. However, you may want to give yourself a “cooling off” period before beginning marriage counseling. Emotions and issues must be running high for you both right now. Permitting a little breathing space, could allow for some of the rawness and shock to wear off. It’s important to maintain your awareness of the situation though, being careful not to let things get postponed indefinitely or worse, buried. Trust in your intuitive knowledge of your own feelings to know when you are ready to begin.
Of course, it goes without saying that you should not blame yourself. But it is also important to remember that while incredibly traumatic, the affair is not the problem in and of itself, but a symptom of something deeper going on in your marriage. Many times, an affair is the last in a long line of dominoes to go down. The dysfunction could stem from already existing issues between you and your husband, external stress on your marriage, or even your husband’s own unresolved personal internal conflicts. Hopefully as you two move through your therapy these concerns can be uncovered and worked on.
You asked in your letter what the consequences for your husband should be. I believe he’s dealing with them now.
Every morning when he opens his eyes he has to face the fact that he’s betrayed and lost the trust of the woman he vowed to love and cherish. In addition to the guilt of sitting on his awful secret for as long as he did, he must now deal with the reality that he has hurt you in a profound way, and there is nothing he can do to undo it. I imagine he’s reminded of his mistake every moment of the day.
As far as letting him know if it happens again there is “no return,” in the best case scenario your therapy will resolve the issues that led to the affair. At some point in your therapy you will probably need to work out what your goals are for the process. Restoring trust and forgiveness will very likely be on that list. With trust and forgiveness restored, there won’t be a need for “infidelity insurance.” Your faith in each other will provide the reassurance you are now missing.
I also realize this is probably small comfort to you, as you are dealing with your own share of emotional fallout. I would expect there to be a fair amount of anger banging around inside you, and rightfully so. It’s important to recognize and express your anger so it doesn’t ferment, but in a way that does not become destructive, or worse, vengeful. Not to make light of the circumstances, but it has been said, “Revenge leads to the Dark Side.” Allowing vengeance to become a motivator in your actions could lead you to engage in hurtful behavior. Ultimately this won’t make you feel better, and will only generate more sadness and regret. It’s almost as if your marriage is on a set of spare tires at the moment. What I mean by this is that while you recognize the feelings and issues that need to be resolved, you still maintain the faith in your shared ability with your husband to do the work and overcome the situation. It’s almost like a “temporary” trust and forgiveness, until the genuine article is recovered.
The road ahead for you two may be long and challenging, and it is very important to try and be both empathic and patient with yourselves and the process. Pace yourself and try to limit your expectations. I don’t say this out of pessimism, but rather pragmatism. If you focus on the present without worrying about the future (such as setting deadlines for when you should be back to “normal” and so on), you won’t be setting yourself up to be disappointed. This will also allow the healing process both inside you and between you and your husband to proceed in an organic way. As I said, your letter shows the depth and strength of your heart, believe in your ability to heal yourself and your marriage. It can be done.
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