Saturday, May 20, 2006

Chapter 20 -- Commitment and Withdrawal

Another great question:
In one of your earlier posts you said that you have now found out that your
wife has had other men in her life pretty much throughout the marriage. Has your
wife now come to terms with the fact that this is probably one of the reasons
that your marriage was in trouble? I am sure that you were able to sense that
there was not a full commitment and you probably reacted accordingly. Do you
think this caused you to pull back from the marriage? Have you ever discussed

I did sense that our commitments were not the same. My own parents divorced (after the kids were grown), and my attitude was marriage is for life no matter what. Only the four A's -- adultery, abuse, addiction, abandonment -- justified ending the marriage. I was determined not to follow in the footsteps of my father, who had a string of affairs, so I put guards up to keep from putting myself in a situation where an affair might develop.

My wife did not have that history and I think she had different attitudes about divorce. That's had, past tense. It was an option if things got bad or uncomfortable. She was not as guarded about opposite-sex friendships.

The tension showed itself in a variety of ways. I became resentful about her jobs because of the role I thought they played in her life. The work was not something she did to support the family or to develop herself as an individual. Rather, it seemed to me that work was an escape from the family for her, and in the battle between work and family, work would win every time.

Again, that's the way it seemed to me. Maybe those attitudes made her more likely to decide to have an affair, maybe not. Maybe I read her correctly about the role work played in her life, maybe I didn't.

I think my wife has a different attitude about divorce now than she did before we worked through the affair. I am certain she has a different attitude about boundaries with men, appropriate language, etc. I see it in her behavior.

Rightly or wrongly, the difference in her commitment, whether real or perceived, caused me to withdraw. But here's a question for you -- was the resulting damage to our relationship caused by her commitment level, or was it caused by my withdrawal? Had I not withdrawn, would her commitment level have continued to deteriorate?

I'm on the hook for my share in all this. She is no more responsible for my own failings than I am for hers.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Chapter 19 - You can't fix each other

Someone asked this question in a comment:
How did your wife go about addressing the pain of the affair so that you would feel better in the end?

That's a great question, and difficult to answer.

You see, if I had just said, "You cheated, I'm hurting, and it's your job to make it better," I'd still be waiting. She couldn't make it stop hurting (no one could), no matter what she did or how hard she tried.

Now there were things she could -- and did -- do to help, but I "feel better" because of what I did, not because of what she did.

Let me explain. Before I was willing to re-engage and remain committed to the marriage, I had to believe that the affair was over and that she wanted it to stay over. By far, the most important factor in that was that I needed to be convinced that she understood how badly her decisions hurt me. For that, I needed her to apologize (she did) and I needed to see her remorse (I did). I saw her almost throw up from sobbing in agony over what she had done. It was real.

She tried to make it better by being loving to me, by changing behavior patterns (less flirty, conservative dress). While I appreciated these gestures, they didn't stop the pain.

Stopping the pain took time. A lot of time. And, I had to grow for the pain to stop. I had to stop playing the victim. I had to stop letting what other people think of me determine what I thought of me. These were things that my wife could not do. It was solely between me and God.

That isn't to say that if someone cheats, they are not responsible for the pain that they cause. They surely are and should do all they can to redress it. The pain is so awful, though, that you can't make up for it completely, you just can't. But if they want to try, they should apologize and express sincere remorse. They should change their behavior, stop the affair, cut off all contact with the affair partner, and be accountable for their time to earn trust.

But again, it won't be enough. At some point, the other party to the marriage has to let it go and just forgive. The pain gets better when you stop looking back and start looking forward, when you can again see the things in your spouse that attracted you to her in the first place and stop seeing her just as a cheater.

When I forgave my wife, it did much more for me than for her. I thought I was doing her a big favor, but the real benefactor was me. I didn't realize how heavy that grudge was until I stopped carrying it.

Don't look to your spouse to fix the pain. Give yourself time to hurt and to grieve, then let it go. It won't be immediate, or at least it wasn't for me. I let go little bits at a time, and as the pain decreased I was able to let go of more and more.

The affair does not control me and does not define me any more (nor does it her). I'll never forget it, but now when I'm reminded of the affair it doesn't bum me out for days on end. I think, "Wow, that was painful." And that's it.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Chapter 18 - Passing it On

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that when we are comforted by God, we are able to pass that comfort on to others.

Maybe I just notice it more because of what we have been through, but after the affair it seemed like I was surrounded by infidelity. People everywhere were cheating and being cheated on, and I was in a position to give advice and comfort.

Sometimes I had to keep silent because of our decision to be as discrete as possible about our own situation. But when I could, I talked about what we had learned.

I got an email from a woman who had read this blog. I can't repeat it in its entirety because it was sent in confidence. My reply does not give away any of her personal information, so I copy it here as an example of what I would tell anyone who found out their spouse was cheating and who wanted to make a go of putting it back together:

Dear _______,

Thank you for sharing your story. My heart goes out to you and your family in this very difficult and tumultuous time.

I am not a counselor or a professional and I cannot tell anyone what they should do when they discover an affair. I only know what helped me during a similar situation.

I understand how difficult it is to decide whether to stay in your marriage, and that is not a question that anyone else can answer for you. If you are anything like me, then in the immediate aftermath of discovering the affair you are not in the best frame of mind to make life-changing decisions. Give it some time. Commit to yourself that you will stay for 3 months, or 6 months, or whatever, and then re-evaluate. You may be calmer then and able to see things more clearly.

There were many encouraging things about your email. From what you have said it appears that your husband is sincere in his effort to rebuild. He is opening up his life to you, being honest about what has happened, and has grasped the concept of complete separation from his affair partner (even if that may not be possible in the immediate future). He has made a step toward counseling by participating in your teleconference. None of these things is a guarantee that your marriage will survive (nobody has a guarantee), but these are signs of a commitment without which it would hardly be possible.

It sounds like you gave him a choice, he made it, AND HE CHOSE YOU. I hope you can find a way to see past the pain and appreciate that fact.

When my wife and I were in this situation, these are the things that in my opinion enabled us to repair our marriage:

1. Counseling. She and I both had individual counseling and we went together to marital counseling. Neither you nor your husband can go through this process alone.

2. The book titled Torn Assunder. It helped us both understand very early in the process that what we wanted to do would be exteremely difficult, but it was possible, and it gave us hope. It helped my wife understand the pain she had caused and it helped me understand that I would have to get out of the victim mode at some point if we were going to make it.

3. Knowing that I could survive even if my marriage didn't. I had a good life before I met my wife. I will have a good life if we stop being married. I would miss her terribly if my marriage ended either by death or divorce, but I would be OK. Once I figured that out, I wasn't desparate. I was hopeful and I was willing to work hard to meet my goals, but my life did not depend on my marriage working.

4. Open communication. We talked a lot about the affair, about how it made me feel, about what I needed to re-develop trust, and about the pain she was going through when she made those decisions. We later were able to talk about what the weaknesses were in our marriage that made it more likely to have an affair. Do you need him to call you from work everyday and tell you that he loves you, so that you will be reassured and you are guaranteed that you will be on his mind? Tell him. Do you need him to call you 5 times a day? Tell him. We men don't figure that stuff out by ourselves.

5. Discretion. We opened up completely to our counsellor and to each other, but to no one else except our pastor and one or two very close same-sex friends (we agreed not to talk about our relationship with people of the opposite sex, and I bet you see the importance of that!). That way we did not have to deal with the judgment and gossip that often goes along with a situation like this. I had to fight the initial urge to go tell her family so that I could enjoy their sympathy and have the satisfation of getting the world on my side. I think If I had done that it would have made things a lot harder for us.

6. Faith. Quite frankly, if we had both not been Christians, I do not see how we possibly could have gotten past the situation. We may have survived, we might even have stayed together, but as it is God used the situation to create a more wonderful marriage than I would have ever thought possible. We haven't just kept our marriage alive; it is truly more wonderful than ever before. In other words, we are not just "surviving." Like the miracle when Jesus turned water into wine, he took something in our lives that wasn't much at all and turned it into something extraordinary.

These are some things that helped us. I hope you and your husband will find what will work for you. I do not know what to tell you about getting through the days ahead until the end of the school year. They will not be easy. But you and your husband are on the same team again. Talk it through together. Talk it through with a counsellor.

On counsellors, I would urge you and your husband again to go to counselling and to do some research first. Make sure the counsellor you choose is pro-marriage. There are (I have heard) counsellors who will tell you that the best thing to do is just get a divorce and go your separate ways, or that you each should do whatever makes you happy. Find one that will support the decision you each have made to do your best to rebuild your relationship, and one who will help you work toward that goal.

I will pray for you and your husband. God bless you both.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Intermission / Feedback and comments

Some people have raised some great comments and questions, through comments on this blog and privately via email. I thought I would address some of them here.

There's the woman who wrote:

thank you for writing this although we did not survive. it does clarify things. When I told my husband who I thought loved me very much (I still do believe that!) that I had feelings for someone else he basically just let me go. if he would have put up the slightest bit of resistance and offered to try to work it out I would still be there with my family intact. I give you kudos for being a man!

Well. I might misunderstand, but it seems to me that this woman had an affair and is blaming her husband for the divorce because he didn't beg her to stay when she said she was leaving. Thanks for the compliment on my undeniable manliness, but I don't think there is anything un-manly about the way this woman's husband reacted. If my wife had said she was leaving, I would probably have asked her to stay and commit with me to at least try to keep it together. But if she refused, I would not have stood in her way. She said instead that she wanted to stay, so we both put our efforts toward recovery. I'm not saying that a couple is without hope when the cheating spouse is determined to leave -- something can always change -- but a condition I set for working on the marriage after the affair was that the affair be over -- completely and immediately over -- and that she agree to work with me by going to counseling and in other ways.

Got another interesting comment from a woman whose husband cheated. She said that the Winnie-the-Pooh characters were big triggers for her. Now that's a story I want to here. Ma'am, if you're out there, more, please.

Here's a good one from someone who wants to disclose her husband's affair:

have not been in touch with the other woman but I so badly want to. Part of me wants to rip her apart , another wants to comfront her woman to woman. I don't know why but I just do. I have an email ready to send out to her e-friends, her pastor , her employer you name it. She and He would exchange office email jokes. I am in the anger phase and don't want to leave it.

I wonder what she decided. If she stayed in that anger phase, they probably haven't recovered much. If she disclosed the affair like she wanted to do, my bet is they are divorcing. I'm not criticizing her -- and she would be within her rights to get a divorce -- but this kind of disclosure is not compatible with putting the marriage back together. We kept it to ourselves, for the most part. We each had a Christian friend (of our own gender) to confide in; our counselor knew; our pastor knew; and that's it. Over time, we have shared our story with a very few other people, because they were going through things in their lives and were in situations where we could help them by sharing.

Right after D-day, I was pissed at our counselor. We had been in counseling the whole time the affair was going on. The counselor knew my wife was cheating, but I didn't, and I felt betrayed. Here's a question I got about that:
When you found out that the counselor knew about the affair and still concentrated on your issues for the previous year did you think about finding another counselor? I know that I would have been pissed.

Yeah, initially I thought about getting another counselor. Ultimately I realized that this guy couldn't have told me, because my wife had told him about the affair in confidence. We would see him together sometimes and separately sometimes, and he couldn't tell her what happened in our private sessions, or the other way around. He told me all that he could. I was angry at everybody in the world at first, the counselor included, but he was just doing his job. And in fact, he was doing it very well and was a tremendous help to us. The affair was a big thing that we were dealing with, quite obviously, but there were other issues in our marriage too, and he was right to focus on those. In hindsight, he did us a great service just by keeping a dialogue going, even if it wasn't about the affair that, at the time, I did not know about. I had no grounds to be angry with a counselor because he protected his client's confidences.

Thanks for these questions and comments, and I'm so glad that my story is helping other people.