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Question

I had an affair for eight months and after my husband found out about it, I continued to see my affair partner for several more months. My husband moved out three times during those months. The affair stopped almost a year ago and I signed a seven-year alimony waiver so my husband would come back. Over the past year, things have been very rocky. My husband was traumatized and I did not realize it, as I saw him as being very controlling (i.e., telling me who I could be friends with, where I could go, and how long I can spend at the store, etc). My husband would feel bad and apologize, but it’s been so stressful for both of us.

My affair partner contacted me on my birthday a couple of months ago, which was eight months after the last time I had seen him. I texted him and talked with him on the phone for two weeks and then saw him on two different occasions during that two-week period in public, just for a few minutes. I know this is wrong! I don’t know why I did it! I was still attached to him because my husband was being so mean and I was just looking for something to hold onto. My husband moved out after he found out I let this guy back into my life. He left without telling me and will not communicate with me. He has not seen me or spoken to me in almost 8 weeks. I have been sending emails and he has responded to a handful of those, but the responses are very angry. We have five children and he has seen very little of them.

I realize now that he was terribly traumatized and that I was handling everything completely wrong! I am very remorseful about everything. I have not seen my affair partner since my husband left and will not ever see him again! I am not sure how to best move forward. I want my marriage back and I want my family together. I am sure that I was having a midlife crisis. This all began when my oldest child was graduating from high school. I have been a stay at home mom for over 20 years and I remember having a panicky feeling and thinking that I didn’t have a purpose for much longer. I’m not making excuses. I’m just telling you exactly how I felt. There are other factors that I think led to this. None of which are an excuse.

I have listened to many different podcasts, YouTube videos, read books, and I have two different counselors. I have tried everything! I have never behaved like this in my life and he trusted me 100% before any of this happened and I trusted him 100%, so I understand he is totally shocked and thinks that I’ve turned into a terrible person. Do you have anything to suggest for the best way to proceed to have the best chance at reconciliation and at showing him that I have changed?

Answer

Even though this is a terribly tragic situation, I can hear your remorse and desire to repair what you’ve broken. At the same time, your panicked reactions might actually be making things worse for everyone involved. Of course you’re panicked. You can see how traumatized your husband is and how your children are suffering from the separation. Let’s talk about how to help you slow down and settle in for a long journey of healing and restoration.

I have no idea if restoration includes your marriage, but you can be restored to wholeness. Yes, you have an obligation to extend accountability to your husband and seek healing. However, it’s common to hyper focus on the lost marriage and neglect your responsibility to find personal healing. It’s common to believe that if you focus on your own healing and aren’t constantly communicating with your estranged husband, then you’ll forfeit your chance for reconciliation.

My guess is that your husband has heard you and knows what you want. If you continue to press him, he’ll likely feel manipulated, pressured, and forced to make a decision that he may not be ready to make. In your question above, your thoughts are all over the place. I don’t say this to be critical, but to point out that you probably communicate with him in the same style. Your communications with him can’t resemble the chaos and drama of your affair.

You have to step back and examine how you’re communicating your message to him. Your words mean nothing to him right now because you’ve lied to him and deceived him. Your affair was impulsive and unstable. If your efforts to win him back are impulsive and unstable, then you’ll continue to be seen as a threat to him.

This is why it’s important for you to work on self-discipline in how you communicate with him. Your messages need to be clear minded, humble, and calm. You can’t insert lectures, excuses, criticism, begging, or pressure. If you have a clear purpose and direction for your new life, then show that through your communications.

I’m sure he’s been deeply traumatized by your actions. Your affair was entangled and prolonged. He has some difficult decisions to sort through right now and you’ve got to give him the respect and space he requires to do this work. Please recognize that you already had multiple chances to prove that you’re committed to him and the marriage, but continued in the affair.

Even though you’re sorting through your story and making sense of your choices, he can’t care about those right now. They will sound like excuses to him. At a minimum, he needs you to be calm, stable, and understanding of how much time and space he’ll need to heal.

Surrender the outcome of your marriage and work on becoming a healthy version of you. Let him know you respect his desire for distance. Let him know it makes sense to you in light of what you’ve done to him. You cannot control the outcome of this situation.

Your husband needs to be respected as someone separate from you who was deeply devastated by your choices. You cannot minimize the impact this had on him by trying to speed things up and get some reassurance from him. Instead, he needs reassurance from you right now that he can take his time and sort out his future, even if that doesn’t involve you.

 

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.geoffsteurer.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.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT