ASK LADY ESQ.
Relationship advice from a divorce attorney.
Dear Lady Esq.,
My wife of twelve years recently disclosed to me that two years ago she had an affair with a co-worker that lasted for three months. I had no idea that this happened and have been devastated by her admission. Up until now we have had what I thought was a happy marriage.
Her explanation of the affair is completely unsatisfactory to me. She explains that she enjoyed the attention she was getting from him and that it just went too far. She did not have many boyfriends before we were married and the attention she received was hard to resist according to her. The gentleman has since been transferred to an overseas office.
She states that she is happy and fulfilled in our marriage and that I was in no way the cause of this affair. I feel humiliated. I feel I can no longer trust my wife. I am contemplating a divorce, but we have three young children to consider. I cannot be in a relationship without trust. That is gone.
What advice can you give me for my situation?
– Cuckold in NYC
Your concerns are well-founded. Trust, once lost, is difficult (though not impossible) to regain. And yet a commitment to marriage is a commitment to work through difficult situations including the mistakes that are made, and a marriage with children may be even more of a reason to try to work things out.
Your wife betrayed you and your trust. The reasons she did what she did are irrelevant. At the end of the day, she cheated, and you are hurt and no longer trust her or look at her or the marriage in the same way.
Ignorance is bliss. The truth is, like you said, before you knew about this infidelity you thought you had a happy marriage. And the affair was two years ago. For two years you didn’t know about the affair and it didn’t hurt you. I wonder what prompted your wife to tell you about it now. Was it her guilty conscience? Or is she trying to let you know that there are things she needs from you and the relationship that she is not getting? Whatever her reasons for telling you, the truth is that when a person “comes clean” about infidelity, especially if the affair has ended, that person does so for their own reasons, to benefit themselves. Her telling you about this affair has caused you nothing but grief and confusion – you have gained nothing positive from knowing the truth.
Now you are in an awful position. What you thought was the state of your marriage is not. The person you thought you could trust you no longer think you can. That is hard to recover from, both as an individual and in the relationship.
Your children should not be the reason you stay in the marriage. Despite our cultural belief that having married parents is what’s best for the kids, staying in the marriage for their sake alone can actually be quite damaging to them. Children are highly intuitive. If you are with your wife for their sake, and not because you are in love with her and dedicated to her and the relationship, your children will sense it. This can shake the foundation of their future relationships. Your relationship must be built on honesty and a true desire to be in it and work on it if you expect your children to grow up seeking healthy relationships of their own.
So the first thing you need to explore is what you truly feel and what you truly want, for you. Do you still love your wife, despite her infidelity? Is this a relationship that you are still willing to put effort into and work to repair, because it is what you want and what will make you happy, regardless of how this decision affects others?
If the answers are yes, if you still love your wife and are willing to put in the work needed to repair your relationship, then, and only then, can and should you proceed with trying to make things work.
If you do want the marriage to work, you have to begin couple’s therapy together. You have to explore the reasons she strayed, the way it makes you feel, and most importantly you have to explore your shaken trust in her and how you can work together to rebuild it. Trust is imperative in a relationship. And you cannot be expected to trust a woman who has lied to you and cheated on you. That is to say, without outside help, you cannot be expected to rebuild that trust. If you choose to stay with your wife but do not seek professional help for the relationship you will carry around fear, bitterness, insecurity, anger, and resentment toward your wife. Without the proper tools to process through and overcome those very valid feelings your relationship won’t stand a chance.
If you do choose to work things out and seek professional help, in doing so you may find that there are changes you need to make to make the relationship work. You may need to give your wife the attention she needs that made her stray in the first place. You may need to work harder, do more, be more attentive to her needs. It may seem unfair to you that she was the one who cheated and now you’re the one who has to change and put forth the effort to repair things, but it is important that you realize this is a possibility and are willing to take on the challenge as part of making your marriage work.
If, on the other hand, your wife’s infidelity has caused you to fall out of love with her or has caused you to no longer want to work on the relationship, then you have to end the marriage. A marriage attempted half-heartedly or without the underlying desire to be in the relationship will fail, and it will fail in a slower more painful way that will be more damaging to your children. If you look into your heart and realize your marriage cannot be saved, you owe it to yourself, to your children, and even to your wife to end the marriage. And if you do go down this path I implore you and your wife to promise to always be civil to each other and to continue to co-parent in a positive way with mutual respect for one another, for the sake of the children, despite whatever bad blood may be between you and your wife.
You can walk away from the marriage and still not damage your children. But if you find yourself in a place where the two of you cannot discuss choices involving your children in a positive and civil way, where lawyers and courts have to make decisions for you, where you can’t talk to each other kindly, where you only have negative things to say about each other, this will damage your children. So for their sake, no matter what path you choose, always put them first and implore your wife to do the same. The actions you take along these lines will be what impacts your children, not whether or not you remain in the marriage.
– Lady Esq.