Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: My husband and I have been together for over a decade and have two sweet, young children. After months of a nagging feeling and begging my husband to tell me the truth, he finally admitted this weekend that he has visited prostitutes and massage parlors for years.
The past year has been a sad, miserable time; he was emotionally retreating out of shame and guilt. The quiet tension has taken a toll on us and our children.
He can get therapy to heal his addiction, but it won’t be with me by his side as his wife. I will be by his side as his friend and the mother of his children.
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We are both relieved to have the truth out, and he says he understands my feelings and vision of our future and wants to do anything it takes to support our family. We had a great past few days of being together, for real, with the kids. They deserve to have happy and emotionally present parents, and I believe we will be that as co-parents who respect and love each other as friends.
I don’t even know what my question is. I just wanted to seek your guidance as we take baby steps into a hopefully peaceful future. Am I being naive again? He and I have both seen separate therapists for the first time this week, which is a wonderful feeling of support and guidance. We plan to live together in our house unless and until we see that will not work. We are seeking co-parenting guidance. Ironically and blessedly, he and I are really good at communicating, except for this one huge secret.
Also, what do we tell our families and friends, etc.? Maybe I am still numb.
Just Found Out
You’re doing a remarkable job of handling a terrible situation. Not being able (yet? ever? that’s for later) to talk about it to anyone but your husband and professional helpers means you’re without peer validation, so I hope this is one small thing I can do for you. Everything you have done here = rock star.
Now give yourself permission not to know what to do next until you actually know. Meaning, when you come across a question like, “What do we tell our family and friends?” let yourself say, “I don’t know.” And not do anything about it until something occurs to you that makes sense.
You just got this news. You now must process overwhelming new information, feelings, consequences and emotional aftershocks. The more you can free yourself to see where this all goes, to ride out the emotions, the better you’ll feel about it when you reach some kind of clarity. Pushing yourself to come up with answers you aren’t ready to give will only add pressure to pain.
If people start asking questions, let yourself say, “I’m not ready to answer that yet.”
And, when you’re ready to make decisions about your future, feel free to discard outside expectations. People will have (bottomless) opinions on what you’re doing — and none of these people is you. It’s your family and these are your feelings and it’s your past, present and future. Your strength is profound. Trust it to carry you now.
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.