Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My relationship with my husband is breaking down. He cheated on me awhile ago but we decided to give it shot and repair things.
However, he refused therapy – I go on my own – and refuses to speak about his affair.
He has become more involved with me and our two young kids, and I can see how much he loves being around them. At the same time, I am unable to move past the affair and I don’t know how to trust him again. He has not changed much in terms of the behaviors that gave him leeway to do whatever he wanted to do. He has his own credit cards, is very private with his phone, etc.
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However, he has assured me that he will not cheat again because he does not want to lose his family. I really do not know what to do.
Is the fact that I cannot get past the affair reason enough to break up my marriage and deprive my kids of seeing their father on a daily basis? I feel terribly guilty. Am I being selfish?
“He has not changed much in terms of the behaviors that gave him leeway to do whatever he wanted to do.”
I agree based on what you’ve written here, but it’s not about credit cards or phone access. It’s about what he admitted to you straight up: Assuming he remains faithful, he will do so in the interest of preserving a status quo he prefers and not because he is emotionally invested in you – as a person, as his partner, as the center of his home life. That’s why he won’t go to therapy or talk about the affair. He’s not interested in cultivating intimacy or even just getting closer to you.
And he’s not interested in giving you what you’ve requested to help you understand and rebuild trust in the aftermath. Instead he’s making an effort that is entirely on his terms, and that’s not good enough when he’s the one whose actions hurt you and your family.
You do say he has “become more involved with me and our two young kids” – but that has a ring of, “OK, I stopped cheating so let’s move on now,” to it, which his refusal to dig any deeper merely confirms. “This American Life” just covered why that won’t do – listen to Act Two of the podcast (http://bit.ly/TALalone).
If I’m right about this, then that’s acutely selfish on his part, for occupying the marriage without any serious consideration for your emotional needs.
So now you need to decide whether you’re OK with this surface-only partnership – with or without fidelity, since it seems he’s not fully invested either way – or want to push for more, up to or including divorce, which would be painful but would at least offer the integrity of being on your own instead of alone in a marriage to him.
Guilt has no place. On the path he has chosen, he won’t keep his family regardless; he will just lose it gradually instead of all at once, by refusing to work on the bond with you that constitutes its foundation. Explain this to him and make it clear you’re not backing down.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com.