This Column typically garners advice from an informational perspective, but I am getting more and more questions like this after I write a column regarding a specific topic like infidelity. Here is an example.
Dear Carol: I have been married for 30 years. Approximately one year ago, my husband had an affair. It totally devastated me. We are back together and went to marriage counseling for a while. He has been a model husband since that time. We were always together, and I never dreamed there was trouble brewing. He met someone on-line and met up with her. We were separated the first time he met her, and then we got back together. During the time we were back together, he lied about going to a conference and spent the weekend with her. I caught him in his lie and made him move out. After a month he begged to come home, and we have been together since. My question is how long does it take to get over something like this? Some days I feel like I am just hanging on by a thread. We are both in the public eye. He is a minister, and I am an elected official. Will this ever heal? I have read all the books my counselor has recommended. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and her together, and it is really eating me up. I would appreciate any help or advice you could give. I have even thought about hypnotism.
Signed, Wanting to Trust.
Dear WTT: Hypnotism won’t work because you don’t want to totally erase the memory of his betrayal. That memory protects you from being totally naive. I am glad you are working on trust. A marriage of 30 years deserves that.
The average amount of time to work through a betrayal is about two years. Gottman, the father of marital research, says that at least 70% of all men and 40% of all women have had at least one affair in their marriage, so you know you are not alone.
Have you had a real opportunity to process your sadness and anger? Many women cannot go on in a relationship until they are sure that their husband knows how this betrayal affected and devastated them. Have you done this? Externalizing anger is very important. I am sure your therapist can help you find safe ways to get the anger out so that you can lessen it and forgive. Many times, not being able to forgive is a way to continue to punish your partner for all the pain you have experienced.
If you have externalized your anger, then you consciously must decide that it is time to trust again or look at a therapeutic separation or divorce. If you decide to stay, trust will take a long time to rebuild, and oftentimes before trust can be rebuilt, one needs to let their partner know exactly what will happen if it is ever violated again. I am assuming that your partner knows that this is the last time you will allow this to happen. If so, give 100% to the marriage by rebuilding that foundation of trust. Make sure to focus on his positives and pride yourself on how you have grown through this whole catastrophe. Recognize the positives in your marriage and your husband and yourself. No matter what, it is very important that you can say that you did everything possible to make your marriage work. You sound like a very strong woman.