Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Can you ever really trust a husband who cheated on you? He confessed – I didn’t “catch” him – and he’d already ended the affair. He says all the right things, blocked the other woman’s numbers, called her in front of me to tell her he made a horrible mistake and wouldn’t respond to any contact from her. He offers full access to anything electronic (passwords included), offered to put a GPS tracker on his phone and car, made an appointment for therapy and for STD testing. My heart is telling me to go to therapy, my head is screaming that a cheater is always a cheater. Can someone really change?
Once a Cheater?
I don’t believe anyone is always anything. We are mercurial pieces of work, all of us, and answer to impulses in different ways depending not just on who we are (at a given time? discuss) but also our surroundings, emotional states, peers, opportunities, prevailing theories of life, prevailing winds.
So a husband who cheated on you could do it again, sure, but he could also choose not to cheat ever again based on this experience, or he could end up never cheating again because the circumstances never align this way again. I am not a fan at all of harboring, much less building on, any illusion of certainty.
You have you. That’s what you know (ignoring for a moment that we manage to surprise ourselves as a matter of course). And you know – or will find out over the next few weeks and months – how you respond to your husband’s infidelity and to his apparently firm commitment to fixing whatever he broke.
You don’t have to figure anything out now. Sure, go to therapy – by yourself, too, not just with him – but then see for yourself what you have.
This experience will change both of you and it’ll change your marriage, that’s a reasonable bet, so your job at this point is just to open your mind to whatever presents itself. You can choose to live with it a while, too, while you figure out whether you want to take or leave these changed versions of your husband and marriage.
For what it’s worth, I’m not thrilled with the fact that his remedies are highly technical, with passwords and GPS tracking et al. That’s all on the verification side. Where you and he need attention now is on the origin side, on the feelings (or absences thereof) that led to this. Why did someone turn his head, why was he susceptible to this attention, why did he act on the temptation?
This isn’t just a more reliable way to re-establish trust, since phone- and password-workarounds are so elementary a 10-year-old can explain them to you. It’s also the only real way to get your relationship to emerge better, stronger and more intimate for having been through this crisis. The couples who can really talk about what went wrong are the ones who get there. Is he willing to say those right things? Are you?
I also recommend you listen to Invisibilia Season 2, Episode 2 (The Personality Myth) (http://n.pr/1BiGuy6). It’s a fascinating walk through the potential for humans to change.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.