Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I caught my husband cheating. We’ve started couple’s counseling. The counselor told him he needed to let me ask all my questions about the affair, and we had that conversation at home. I do feel better now, but he was evasive on a few of the questions: “Did you tell her you loved her?” (he dodged, unconvincingly), and, “Who initiated the affair?” (he doesn’t know I know it was a lie to say she did).
How much of a red flag is this? Do I allow him to fudge some details so he doesn’t look like quite the glass bowl he was, or do I take this to mean his outward remorse and commitment to repairing our relationship are not as real as they mostly feel?
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I can make a case for mercy because he’s apparently doing everything you and your counselor have asked him to, and compassion says you don’t have to insist he complete every step of his walk of shame.
However, the best chance your marriage has is for it to become something different from what it was before. The before was something you thought was working and, most likely, largely took for granted. Probably true of both of you. And, the before is what got you here.
The after can be something you’re actually glad you have even if you deplore the way you got it. It can be surprising in its intimacy — if, big if, you’re both able and willing to let it be raw in its honesty.
And that points to your not dropping these last two truths.
One approach would be to point out his hedging and to say — calmly, since agitation tends to suppress truth-telling — that it tells you he did say he loved her and did initiate the affair. Then you can say you’ve accepted these things and are ready to (work to) move past them, but you must hear him be completely honest with you. You have to know he can do it.
Then, you see.
Carolyn: Does it change anything if I definitely know (as much as I can) that their affair is over? They were co-workers, and he’s put in for a transfer, most likely at some cost to his future prospects there. So I feel better than I thought I would about looking forward; it’s mostly the looking backward that’s still kind of haunting me.
After Cheating again
I don’t think this information changes the answer any. The best way to go forward is to make sure there’s nothing behind you that feels unresolved. It’s not about whether she’s gone (though that helps), but whether he’s different — willing to admit the hardest possible things to admit. His doing that will help you see whether you and he can handle whatever else comes up in the future.
Re: Cheating: I cheated; my husband found out. I owned up. I answered all questions honestly and did everything I was asked to do.
Our marriage fell apart anyway — not because of the cheating but because the intimacy/honesty between us collapsed again, the very thing that drove me to cheat in the first place.
Cheating is a symptom, not a disease. Treat the disease.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.