Dear Carolyn: How do I start trusting my wife again? Three years ago, I caught her (52) having an affair with a 29-year-old aide who came to our house to help with our autistic son.
One of my first questions to her was “What did I fail to give you?” We went the counseling route and, as the months passed, I knew she would text or write him, but I dealt with these things as they came up. She was repentant and wanted to make it work … and, I love her.
About a year and a half into counseling, I stumbled across another note, this time to a 21-year-old worker with my son. She was having another affair. I left.
She begged me to come back and go back to counseling. I did. The therapist decided she was co-dependent and stopped couple’s counseling to work on her.
So here we are. We appear normal. She won’t talk about those days, as she wants to move on. Meanwhile, I have absolutely no trust. I find myself pulling away from her and this marriage I so want to save. She says she loves me, but she said that then, too. I’m not sure where to go from here. Is it just a matter of “time heals all wounds”?
A: Time can’t heal anything unless the cause of the injury stops.
You cite two excellent reasons not to believe your wife will be faithful ever after: (1) She said and did the right things the first time you caught her – expressed remorse, joined you in counseling – and still she cheated again. (2) Now, she “won’t talk about those days.” Since she’s the one who betrayed you, the price she pays for that is to put up with your questions until you’re satisfied with the answers. Dodging is a quick hop from denial, which is a quick hop from the next health aide’s bed.
This is not license for the betrayed to hound the betrayer indefinitely. If no answer will ever put the matter to rest, then it’s best for both for the relationship to end.
It isn’t, of course, quite as simple as fidelity = problem solved. “What did I fail to give you?” is a natural question to ask, and a heartbreaking one, but it oversimplifies. No relationship can satisfy every need. The best anyone can do is choose a partner well, recognize what needs that partner leaves unmet, and find other ways to satisfy those needs that work within the boundaries of the relationship. No one but the couple themselves gets to decide where those boundaries lie.
The answer to your first question, about trust: You apparently can’t trust your wife not to cheat again; you can, though, trust her to be the person she has revealed herself to be. You can trust that she loves you, trust that she wants the marriage to continue, and trust that she will indeed act against both of these interests when her competing needs (whatever they are) overpower her. Wishful thinking doesn’t serve either of you here.
Should the counseling bring her to a point where she can master these needs without bedding someone on the sly, I suspect you’ll see the change in her quite plainly. Her “I won’t talk about it” shame will give way to “I am an open book to you” peace.
As for your second question, where you go from here: That depends on your needs. Can you embrace the marriage you have with her “as is,” knowing it might mean absorbing another affair? Can you do that without hating her, or hating yourself?
If not, is there a measurable goal – since “trust” can’t be quantified – that you’d like her to reach through her therapy, and is there an amount of time you’re willing to wait for her to get there? Can you commit to this amount of time without emotionally pulling away, or is separation the only authentic path you have left?
These aren’t easy answers to come to, in part because your wife apparently won’t or can’t answer them for you by choosing transparency and choosing to serve the marriage instead of her impulses. The answers instead will have to be more about who you are, and who you are (and aren’t) willing to be.