Forgive or Forget

Friday, September 26, 2008

Question

Do you think it is possible to forgive somebody for cheating? My wife told me a week ago that she had a brief affairs with a co-worker. He has left her company and she says it's over. She wants me to understand that there were problems in our relationship that forced here into being unfaithful. But I didn't know we had any problems until she told me she cheated on me. I don't like the idea of divorce. I thought this relationship was a commitment I'd made for the rest of my life. But I can't seem to shake the image of her having sex with another man out of my mind, and I can't bring myself to touch her. I'm so angry and hurt. Can I ever

Answer

You know yourself better than I do. What's your track record with other incidents where people close to you have betrayed your trust or let you down? Do you hold grudges forever, or are you able to let resentment go and salvage the relationship? Few things hurt more than an adulterous spouse, but you will probably deal with this the same way you've dealt with other traumatic mistakes.Let's take a look at your wife's character as well. The fact that she told you about her affair inclines me to believe she's basically an honest (if not particularly strategic) person. She probably told you because she wants absolution. But I don't know of too many situations where the person who was deceived is willing to help the person who hurt them get rid of their guilt. If she'd asked me, I would have told her to keep her mouth shut, insist that you go to couples counseling with her, and focus on saving the marriage by improving her dynamic with you.

But now the ugly fact is out of the bag, and you can't unlearn it. One of the things that makes it hard to forgive infidelity is the images that you describe of your partner relishing sex with another. Try to calm your imagination down. You don't really know what this other guy was like in bed. If he was that good, she probably wouldn't have come back to you. Any time you find your mind drifting that way, practice some thought stopping. Say, "No!" out loud and immediately do something else to distract yourself. This doesn't work all at once, but it can prevent you from at least some compulsive self-harm.

Instead of trying to answer your own question right away, why not go to a couples counselor with your wife? It seems that a lot has been going on with her that you never knew about. You deserve to hear the complete truth about how she has experienced this marriage. It may be that she wants things to change that you are unwilling to alter. You may realize that there is a deep incompatibility that would have driven the two of you apart even if she'd remained faithful.

You might also discover that your wife remains devoted to you and would do just about anything to make up for her mistake. If we lived in a culture where it was taboo for a married woman to eat a meal with any man who wasn't her husband, you'd be all cut up over that. Instead, you were raised in a society where people are taught that monogamy is the primary sign of a serious or real relationship. And yet we have divorce rate of about 50%, and prostitution shows no sign of going out of business. How realistic is this expectation? Does it really mean what we think it means? Maybe your wife was lonely, bored, angry, scared, or desperate. Something happened to make her vulnerable to the attractions of another man. If you choose to see her affair as a sign of her corrupt personality, you'll never forgive her, but that's certainly easier on the ego than taking a good hard look at how you might have let her down.

Good luck. I've seen plenty of couples treat an incident like this as a wake-up call that can help them to stop taking their marriage for granted and make it stronger. I've also seen couples who can't get past it and decide to separate. My vote goes with the romantic strength of true love. If you chose her for a lifetime mate, I think you should get to keep her and be happy with her. Don't continue to deny her the comfort of physical intimacy. The first time you come together naked, in bed, will probably make you both feel raw and frightened. But there's probably nobody on your block who needs to make love more than the two of you.

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