My husband and I have been married for twenty years and a few years ago he had an affair with a woman who is nothing like me. We have stayed together and mostly healed from it. The part that is still hard for me is the fact that my husband became interested in some new hobbies as part of his relationship with this other woman. He never exercised much before the affair, but she was into fitness and he began taking care of himself during the affair. There is a part of me that is grateful that he’s now physically healthier than he’s ever been. But, just about every time he exercises, it reminds me of her and their affair. This doesn’t feel fair to him, but the whole affair doesn’t feel fair to me. I have no idea what to do so we can both get what we need. Any suggestions?
The fallout from affairs can show up in the most unexpected places. One of the difficult things about affairs is that the double-life opens up new possibilities for the unfaithful person. They often discover or experiment with new ways of living that they then bring back to the marriage. It’s common for the unfaithful person to struggle giving up these new discoveries. In an ironic twist, it’s as if they don’t want to betray themselves and their newfound discovery while actively betraying their spouse.
Please know that your reaction to this situation isn’t unusual. You’re not crazy or being difficult. Your husband opened himself up to influences that have forever changed the landscape of your marriage. Exercise is now one souvenir he’s kept from trip he took away from the marriage. Don’t tell yourself to let this go because exercise is a good thing. This isn’t about exercise. It’s about him truly understanding the impact he’s had on your feelings of safety and security.
Affairs are selfish and it’s selfish to continue living in ways that threaten the emotional safety of the injured partner. If you need him to stop exercising until you can feel secure again, ask him for this temporary accommodation. It’s not going to hurt anyone, especially since he already went decades without exercising prior to the affair. You’re not controlling him. You’re asking him to pay attention to how his affair affected the marriage.
He needs to completely forsake everything that was part of the affair and then work closely with you to understand what you need to feel secure again. The first priority isn’t exercise. The first priority is for him to do everything he can to see what changed for you after breaking your trust in the relationship. It’s common for the injured partner to become more open and flexible once you know he’s putting you first instead of putting himself first. If you see him going forward taking care of his needs and disregarding your concerns, then it will be hard to believe that he will do what it takes to protect the marriage long-term.
No activity or hobby is more important than the emotional security of a spouse. Take as much time as you need to make sure you are fully understood before moving forward. Your job is to speak up and let him know what you need from him. If he can’t hear you, please don’t give up and go silent. Remember that the exercise isn’t the biggest threat to your marriage. Your husband’s refusal to hear your distress is the biggest threat to your stability as a couple.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at email@example.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. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[iii] See Faith Precedes the Miracle (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975), p. 178.