Dear Carolyn: How do I start trusting my wife again? Three years ago, I caught her (52) having an affair with a 29-year-old aide who came to our house to help with our autistic son.
One of my first questions to her was What did I fail to give you? We went the counseling route and, as the months passed, I knew she would text or write him, but I dealt with these things as they came up. She was repentant and wanted to make it work and I love her.
About a year and a half into counseling, I stumbled across another note, this time to a 21-year-old worker with my son. She was having another affair. I left.
She begged me to come back and go back to counseling. I did. The therapist decided she was co-dependent and stopped couples counseling to work on her.
So here we are. We appear normal. She wont talk about those days, as she wants to move on. Meanwhile, I have absolutely no trust. I find myself pulling away from her and this marriage I so want to save. She says she loves me, but she said that then, too. Im not sure where to go from here. Is it just a matter of time heals all wounds? G.
Carolyn Says: Time cant heal anything unless the cause of the injury stops.
You cite two excellent reasons not to believe your wife will be faithful ever after: (1) She said and did the right things the first time you caught her expressed remorse, joined you in counseling and still she cheated again. (2) Now, she wont talk about those days. Since shes the one who betrayed you, the price she pays for that is to put up with your questions until youre satisfied with the answers.* Dodging is a quick hop from denial, which is a quick hop from the next aides bed.
(* This is not license for the betrayed to hound the betrayer indefinitely. If no answer will ever put the matter to rest, then its best for both for the relationship to end.)
It isnt, of course, quite as simple as fidelity = problem solved. What did I fail to give you? is a natural question to ask, and a heartbreaking one, but it oversimplifies. No relationship can satisfy every need. The best anyone can do is choose a partner well, recognize what needs that partner leaves unmet, and find other ways to satisfy those needs that work within the boundaries of the relationship. No one but the couple themselves gets to decide where those boundaries lie.
The answer to your first question, about trust: You apparently cant trust your wife not to cheat again; you can, though, trust her to be the person she has revealed herself to be. You can trust that she loves you, trust that she wants the marriage to continue, and trust that she will indeed act against both of these interests when her competing needs (whatever they are) overpower her. Wishful thinking doesnt serve either of you here.
Should the counseling bring her to a point where she can master these needs without bedding someone on the sly, I suspect youll see the change in her quite plainly. Her I wont talk about it shame will give way to I am an open book to you peace.
As for your second question, where you go from here: That depends on your needs. Can you embrace the marriage you have with her as-is, knowing it might mean absorbing another affair? Can you do that without hating her, or hating yourself?
If not, is there a measurable goal since trust cant be quantified that youd like her to reach through her therapy, and is there an amount of time youre willing to wait for her to get there? Can you commit to this amount of time without emotionally pulling away, or is separation the only authentic path you have left?
These arent easy answers to come to, in part because your wife apparently wont or cant answer them for you by choosing transparency and choosing to serve the marriage instead of her impulses. The answers instead will have to be more about who you are, and who you are (and arent) willing to be.
Seeking to be sought
Dear Carolyn: Do you think there are people who do more seeking out of friends and others who wait to be sought? Does it mean anything? I tend to be the gatherer and all my friends are happy to spend time with me, but unless I seek them out I dont hear from them an awful lot. Thoughts? Friend
Carolyn Says: Dont take it personally when people are being themselves thats my thought. Its when they change the way they act toward you that its worth figuring out what it means.
Send email to Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org.