Every time we were apart I was with other women, which I consider a form of cheating. This last time she, too, went out on some dates. She was intimate with one of the men. It was devastating to me. I now know what I have done to her. And more importantly, I realize that she is my honest to God, one true love. So, we’re together right now, and I know I have so much to do to fix me, fix us, and show her that I really love her. I know I’ve been a fool.
So, my question: Will we be able to pull this off? I hurt so much knowing how much I have hurt her. I am willing to do so much to keep my wife. — Wanting to Pull It Off
Of course you can pull it off and save your marriage, but it’s going to take work, commitment, honesty, and lots and lots of communication. Are you both seeing a therapist together yet? If not, start there. With an impartial mediator, you should address together the betrayal you both have felt, the hurt feelings, and what happened between the amazing relationship you had when you married in 2009 and when things started going awry. Why did you seek comfort elsewhere when your wife had a miscarriage, you had two children, and life got busy? Did it feel too difficult to meet your wife’s needs when your own felt unmet? What were some of the feelings you had during the times life pulled you and your wife apart? What needs of yours were being met by other women that your wife either couldn’t or simply didn’t meet? (Did she even know what your needs were? Did you?) And what about her needs? Did you know what they were? Do you know now?
I hear people say so often that marriage is really hard, and I’m not sure I agree with that. Life can be hard — I think we can all agree on that. Having a job with a lot of responsibility is hard; raising kids is hard; balancing work and a personal life is hard; caring for elderly or ill family members is hard; losing loved ones is hard; being sick yourself is hard. And, yes, if your marriage isn’t strong, it can certainly be hard, especially if you are dealing with any of the above (and who isn’t dealing with at least one of the above?). But… if your marriage is strong and it’s working well, it can make any of these other life challenges a little easier to handle. It can — and should! — be a haven from the stresses of the rest of your life. In fact, if spouses would turn toward each other for support in times of struggles, instead of turning away and/or elsewhere, they would find that tackling the struggles together can bring them closer and strengthen their marriage.
What’s “hard” is developing that habit of leaning on each other, especially when the struggles develop domestically, within the home and the family (like with a miscarriage and/or the birth of new babies). When you associate home and everything in it as the source of your stress, it’s easy to lump your spouse in with that, too. But your spouse is on your side! You’re partners, teammates, a unified front against the stressors of your life (even the ones that you created, who jump in your bed at 6 am on Saturday morning, every damn Saturday morning, could they at least have the decency to wait until 7?!). And when the stressors develop right in your home, then both spouses are in need of support and that’s when it’s hard to “be there” for your partner when you also need support.
When your own well is dry, how do you help fill someone else’s? How do you even find the desire to when your partner is seeming indifferent to you because she’s hurting so much or is feeling so stressed out or overwhelmed? This is what I imagine people mean when they say marriage is “hard.” Marriage isn’t hard; but offering support to the person you feel is partly responsible for YOU needing support is. And that’s what you need to work on. That’s the part that is either going to make or break your marriage. If you can figure out — again, with the help of a therapist — how not only to “be there” for your spouse in times of struggle, but also to seek support from her as well, AND find strength in this sharing and meeting of each other’s needs, you guys are going to be ok.
Additionally, you both have to work on finding other sources of support and outlets for your stress besides each other and extramarital affairs (obviously). What about other family members, friends, hobbies, exercise, and therapists? For me, personally, as a stay-at-home parent, I really benefit from getting away from my kids and my home a few evenings a week. So, two or three times a week, I feed my family dinner and clean up, and for about 45 minutes while my husband bathes the kids and gets them ready for bed, I go out and clear my head. Lately, I’ve been riding my bike around the park not too far from our place. Sometimes I go to a yoga studio and squeeze in a quick class. Maybe I’ll go for a walk around the neighborhood. Every once in a blue moon, I’ll go to a nearby bar and enjoy a happy hour drink while reading a magazine. I come home feeling refreshed, head cleared, and grateful that my husband “gets” that I need that time to myself to be the best partner to him and mom to our kids (and I’m happy to give him his time, too!). I also go out once or twice a month with friends in the evenings after the kids have gone to sleep. And my husband and I go out on our own together sans kids a couple times a month. This is so important — quality time together as a couple without your kids around. Even if you both just get away from work for a lunch date every few weeks, that’s something that’s better than nothing.
One of the most important ingredients of a successful marriage is one I mentioned in the previous paragraph. It’s so simple, so important, and so easy to ignore. It’s gratitude. Practicing gratitude with and for your partner on a daily basis accomplishes so much. It sends a message not only of appreciation but also of visibility. You are seeing and you are being seen. It can change your perspective. Instead of focusing on what needs are not being met, you acknowledge what IS being met. It creates positive energy, and you know what positive energy does? It creates more positive energy. And this makes for a happy marriage and a happy home — one where wells can be filled more fully, and all the stuff that life throws at us that is genuinely hard is made just a little bit easier to handle.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.