I have been married for ten years and just recently found out about a short affair that my wife had over five years ago. I confronted her about it and she said she was truly sorry and that when it came down to a choice, she had always wanted to be with me. Even though I believe her, I am so stunned by her doing this with a mutual friend that I can’t get over it. I don’t want to measure my whole marriage by this one event, but I can’t get it out of my mind. What would you recommend?
It has long been said that bad things happen in a moment and good things take a long time to build. This is the truest thing you can say about betrayals and trust in relationships. Often a betrayal can leave you questioning the very foundation of how you think and feel, not just about the person involved in the betrayal, but with everyone else in your life as well. The reason you can’t get the experience out of your mind is that the experience of betrayal is visceral. It makes you sick to your stomach and it literally can feel like the ground has been pulled out from under you.
Although the experience is old for your partner, just learning about it brings it to the present tense for you. This is why many people never come clean on indiscretions, because for them the choice has already been made. For them, there is nothing to be gained by sharing the past. This might be true so long as the truth is assured to never come out, but living with ghosts in the closet can have both emotional and health ramifications. People do get sick from the secrets they keep and the feeling of having something to hide makes the work of building trust that much harder.
Recovering from betrayal takes time. Slowly the world rights itself and it gets easier to see the relationship as a whole, both the good and the bad. Re-committing to relationships after a betrayal is like getting back up on the horse after a fall. You might not bring the same innocent heart back to it, but bringing back wisdom can often be worth the trade. Five years later, you can see that your partner did choose you. Can you bear witness to the daily little ways she has committed to loving you? If so, then you are lucky.
Many people’s entire lives are poisoned from other people’s betrayals. Their past experiences prevent them from ever really being vulnerable or willing to trust again. The tragedy of this is that they really lose the most. Never trusting yourself to love again is too steep a price to pay for the transgressions that often happen in relationships. Decide what you want to build out of the ashes of this experience and let it teach you both what love is worth.
Wendy Strgar is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love and family. She helps couples tackle the questions and concerns of intimacy and relationships, providing honest answers and innovative advice. Wendy lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, a psychiatrist, and their four children ages 11-20.