What to Do with an Unfaithful Wife

Letter #2

Dear Dr. Harley,

My wife of nineteen years has been having an affair with a co-worker for at least two months. She has admitted to spending long hours with the man and, in effect, making him the focus of her emotional being instead of me. She claims that the two have not had sex, but I am convinced that they have had sex because of phrases in letters of hers that she wrote him. She denies this.

He has ended the affair with my wife for fear of losing his children. She has left the state for a few weeks (the trip was planned long before I found out about the affair), and I am left alone with the images.

I want to forgive her, but I feel that she has not revealed the full depth of her betrayal, and that I would not be able to completely forgive her as long as there is still some doubt. Is it possible to forgive what you fear, without confirmation?

C.S.

Dear C.S.,

The question you need to ask yourself is, do I want my wife to love me? Or even, do I want to be married to her? If the answer to these questions is "no," then I don't have much advice for you. But if the answer is "yes," you have a lot of work ahead of you, and "forgiveness" is about the last thing I'd be worried about just yet. Your wife almost left you, and if you're not careful, she eventually will. What you just experienced was a wake-up call.

The reason her relationship didn't go anywhere was that her friend wanted his own marriage to survive, not because she wanted hers to survive. As a marriage counselor, I am always hoping that the friend will do just that so I can help the couple rebuild their marriage without interference. But don't think for a minute that their relationship is over, or that she will ever be really sorry for what she did. But you have a chance right now to save your marriage, and what you do in the next few months will be crucial.

First, let's analyze the problem. Over the past few years, you and your wife have grown apart. You have become incompatible, and you are not meeting her emotional needs. She probably isn't meeting yours either. She found someone who meets her needs, and was willing to give up her relationship with you to be with him. She comes back to you reluctantly, because she has no choice. But it gives you an opportunity.

You must take this opportunity to prove to her that you can do something you haven't been doing for some time: Meet her most important emotional needs. First, you need to discover them. What was her friend doing that she found so irresistible? He probably talked to her, showed an interest in her, was respectful and encouraging, demonstrated his care by being there for her when she needed him. And maybe, most important, he didn't criticize her or try to straighten her out.

Call her, send her flowers, tell her how much you love her, how much you miss her. Don't smother her, but let her know in no uncertain terms that you value your relationship with her.

Even though you have been very hurt by her affair, don't blame her for it. Don't expect her to apologize and don't ask her to explain the gory details.

She is probably suffering depression over the relationship not working out. It's a common symptom of withdrawal. She will want to talk to someone about how badly she feels. Try to be the one she confides in, even if what she says is how much she misses this other man. DON'T JUDGE HER! If you do, she simply won't open up to you. Don't risk losing her by venting your anger or your judgment on her.

Granted, you're in a tough situation, but one I've seen work out a vast majority of the time. It may take six months to two years to recover your wife's love, but when it's over you will have the relationship with each other that you have both needed throughout your married life.

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