Question:

I’ve been married about 21 years. Six months after we got married we had our first child. When this happened, my wife utterly changed from being an easy-going person to being mean all the time. She developed a short temper, mood swings, became physically abusive toward me, and yelled at me constantly. When this happened, I felt betrayed. This was not the person I married anymore. This has continued for the entire marriage up until I had an affair. I felt like I was driven away from her. I wanted to feel connected again to a loving human being and not the person my wife had become. I have stayed in this relationship because I love her. Although it has gotten more tolerable over the years, she is now menopausal and has no interest in physical intimacy. I am so frustrated. I made the promise to myself to never do that again but again, I feel like I am being driven away from her. What do we do?

Answer:

If you’re serious about keeping your marriage together, you can do things differently this time. I don’t doubt the pain you’ve suffered in your marriage, but turning away from your wife toward another woman a second time isn’t going to soothe your aching heart. Your marriage has serious injuries that need immediate attention. You have to choose whether you’ll turn toward your marriage or turn away from it.

I have some tough feedback for you regarding your situation. Even though you feel your wife was difficult to live with early in your marriage, engaging in an affair has created additional damage that you will need to repair, regardless of how bad you’re currently hurting.

You’ve probably experienced a similar dynamic in your parenting. Have you ever gone over the top in disciplining your child for something they did wrong and overwhelmed them? Perhaps you yelled at them or scared them in your attempt to discipline them and they completely shut down. In that moment, you were faced with a choice. You could stay aggressive and pretend you didn’t just injure the relationship between the two of you, or you could back off, take accountability for your overreaction, and then address the original issue later.

Your affair was an overreaction to the pain you were feeling in your marriage. I recognize you have a lot of pain you want to share with your wife to let her know how difficult things have been in your marriage. There is a lot to share with her regarding how betrayed you have felt in her treatment of you over the years. She needs to repair those injuries with you so your marriage can heal. However, if you minimize the impact of the affair or justify having another one, you will never heal as a couple.

Lead out with accountability and remorse for the damage you’ve caused with your affair. Let her know that you want to restore trust with her and have a good marriage. I like the simple wisdom found in the song “Divisionary” by the band Ages and Ages

Do the right thing

Do it all the time

Make yourself right

Never mind them

Don’t you know you’re not the only one suffering?

If you want to save your marriage, don’t wait around for her to own her mistakes and make things right with you. Own your own betrayals and make them right. If she chooses not to take accountability for her behavior, you’ll have to make some difficult decisions about your relationship. Working with a marriage counselor who knows how to work with these issues will help you navigate this fragile process of repairing your bond. Whatever you decide to do, just make sure it doesn’t create more regret.

Chances are, if she sees that you’re willing to lead out with accountability and prove to her that you won’t choose anyone else, it will make it easier for her to see her own contribution to the marital dissolution and you can both actively work to repair the ways you’ve hurt one another. Even thought there is a lot of work to do, if you’re both turning toward each other to repair years of damage, it can hold both of you in place while you find your way back to each other.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

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