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I am a 51-year-old woman married to a 55-year-old man. We have been married for 32 years. We have two daughters, one 29 and one 30. A year ago I found out that my husband has had multiple affairs over the past five years with women in their twenties while he was on international assignments for his job. Even after I confronted him in February 2012, he continued to have affairs with other women up until about 12 weeks ago, as best I can prove. We have been trying to work through this for several months, and during this time I have endured the fact he has given me a sexually transmitted disease and that one of these women became pregnant with his child (she recently had a miscarriage). My husband’s solution to our reconciliation is for me to just get over it. He says he is not having affairs anymore, and he doesn't understand why I can't just let it go and trust him again. He doesn't seem to understand why I'm so emotional about his infidelity. We are currently living in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and I have been unable to find a counselor for myself or a marriage counselor. (If you are able to provide me any information on a counselor here, I would be most appreciative.) We obviously have very poor communication skills, and I'm really struggling with the reconciliation process and trying to figure out if our marriage can survive the damage his affairs have caused. How do I forgive? Can I trust him? Is he trustworthy? How do we build communication skills? How can I have lived and been married to someone for 32 years and not know him? How do I help myself deal with the stress and emotional trauma I'm experiencing? Please help me, as I really want to save my marriage. I love this man even though he has committed the ultimate betrayal of my love and commitment! - Heartbroken
Well, obviously “just get over it” isn’t going to suffice. What a shockingly callous response to your very poignant and sincere request for reconciliation. I am very sorry you have had to endure this and that your husband is being (it seems) indifferent to your very understandable pain and heartbreak.
I guess the first question I have is this: Is your husband even open to any kind of reconciliatory process—or any process, period? If not, what will you do? I don’t suggest you rush to answer this question, because if he continues to dig in his heels, you may decide he is no longer able to reciprocate your love or take his commitment seriously. (As it is, his track record is pretty dismal.) In a fair world, he’d be begging you for forgiveness. What you need to do right now is take care of yourself; no good decision can be made under duress, and surely this situation is traumatic, as you say.
It sounds to me like you are hamstrung in terms of resources available to you. It is hard to imagine living in a place with no counseling available, but there we are. Would you be able to live with a friend or family member in a place that has affordable counseling, perhaps temporarily? (For instance, many universities offer free or low-cost counseling, as do many major American cities; Los Angeles, for example, has several top-notch training clinics.) It may seem like a radical step to remove yourself for a bit—if this is even possible—but I highly recommend doing so, so that you can find healing, consolation and support while deciding what you need to do. It also sends a necessary message to your husband, which is that you are serious about taking steps to change the state of affairs and are not ignoring the rather large elephant in the room. If he does not get such a message, he is likely to do so again, since he is either extremely self-centered or covering up his embarrassment or insecurity (or possible sex or love addiction) with bravado, neither of which is acceptable behavior in the kind of marriage I assume you want.
I’d recommend a couple of other things, the first being a book called After the Affair by Janice Spring; she is also the author of How can I Forgive You? Both deal with the very issues you are facing and are invaluable resources, offering some concrete suggestions as to what some next steps might possibly be.
Another resource can be found online via survivinginfidelity.com and infidelity.supportgroups.com. It is not, of course, the same as in-person counseling, but offers a way of reaching out to others and receiving much-needed feedback and support via the Internet.
Finally, you might explore the possibility of counseling via phone or Skype. These options will be delineated by whatever local laws govern telephone therapy in the area. For instance, in California, licensed therapists are not allowed to treat people who live out of state. (I think this is the case for most U.S. states, but I am not certain.) I don’t know what the “rules” are in England or Canada. You might see if you can locate a therapist who is legally permitted to provide services via telephone or Skype.
My keenest suggestion is for you to focus on your own needs because of the shock and disbelief that inevitably follows this discovery, to say nothing of the wear and tear on one’s self-esteem. I suppose a more “tough-minded” therapist might ask you why it’s OK for your husband to treat you like this, without you “throwing the bum out”; but I know from my own clinical experience that, however it may look to outsiders, it is very difficult to suddenly end a relationship with a loved one, no matter the betrayal. This often happens with those of us who come from families where betrayals and self-interest were the norm. Also, people generally have a hard time believing that a loved one could be so disloyal and self-serving at the cost of our own feelings and trust; such betrayals often do lead to numbness or dissociated pain—which is precisely why I think it’s important to connect with your own feelings and experience before making any big decisions on what you need from your husband as a bottom line. Be wary of the usual impulse to try and understand “why” this happened … i.e., why did he do this, why so dishonest, why did I not catch it sooner, why can’t I draw a line in the sand, why does he disrespect me, etc. I think that question is less important than: What do I need now from him to feel safe and loved again? What feels right to you, intuitively? It may take an experienced counselor to help connect you to that intuition, given the tumult, but at the center of all of your swirling thoughts and feelings is a quiet, inarguable truth.
If your husband continues to rebuff your need for recommitment and for him to understand the damage he has caused, and continues to act like he could care less how you feel (a behavior that is atrociously immature and self-centered, in my view), you may have to consider the unthinkable: separate or leave for good. Painful and frightening as that may sound, the other option is worse: continue to live with betrayals, secrets, and a growing estrangement from a partner who for whatever reason is not able or willing to act like one. This only robs you of the time and reciprocated love you surely deserve, and which can never be replaced. (And, difficult though it may appear, I do believe living alone is better than discarding one’s basic needs for reciprocity, honesty, and respect in a long-term relationship.)
I leave you with the assurance that you are having a very normal and understandable reaction to a shocking discovery. You are being more than fair in what you are asking from your husband. I wouldn’t even fault you for deciding things have been broken beyond repair. But take your time in figuring out what you need from him. Get the help you need in order to support the very difficult task of finding the courage to do what you need to do if your husband will not do the human thing in reciprocating your fidelity, loyalty, and love.