Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“We Both Cheated. Can Our Marriage Be Saved?”

My wife and I have been married since 2009. I believe our relationship was amazing then. We are older and she wanted kids with me, so tubes were reversed and she was pregnant three times. She had one miscarriage and we have two amazing and healthy children. Life became busy. I did online chatting a little. I know I was wrong. Ever since then — the kids and the chatting — we have not been the same. We have separated and gotten back together three times. We are recently together again.

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.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

12 comments… add one
  • juliecatharine

    Juliecatharine May 12, 2017, 2:48 pm

    Beautiful answer Wendy. Good luck OP. Only one thing to add; it’s worth looking at why it took your wife being intimate with someone else to make you realize the impact of your own actions. Wake up calls are good but if you can avoid the need for them you can save yourself (and your wife!) some heartache.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark May 12, 2017, 8:00 pm

    Eh, drama. Drama. Drama. You WERE separated. Both of you. When you had sex with other people. Look, they say you can pick your battles. You can also pick your devastations.
    .
    You can choose to be devastated over the affair. Or you can be devastated over the destruction of your marriage. Honestly? The former sounds easier to get over.

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  • avatar

    Kate May 13, 2017, 5:46 am

    Like Wendy said, theoretically there IS a way to work through this, if you’re both very committed and you’re willing to see a LOT OF a couple’s therapist to get to the bottom of your issues, figure out each other’s needs, supply those needs, rebuild trust. But dude, you’ve separated and gotten back together *three times* in what, 5 years? You know your kids have to be getting old enough to be aware that this is a whole lot of unstable dramatic bullshit. And it’s interesting that it took another guy seeing your wife as sexually desirable, for you to start giving a shit. When the shock of that wears off, the pattern will probably begin again. Unless you’re 100% in this and willing to do the actual work to stick to it, maybe you two would be better off staying apart and co-parenting. The kids don’t need your on and off drama.

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  • avatar

    Brise May 15, 2017, 7:45 am

    Yes, stop this unstability. Be there, support each other, be more committed, like all other couples, it is not that complicated. Dating other people on a break is not cheating. This is none of your business what she did during this break, that is what “break” means. Forget it and be a bit more of a husband, this will help your family. You sound a bit like a teenager, you know.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom May 15, 2017, 9:56 am

    LW You seem self-absorbed and lacking in empathy if it took your wife sleeping with another man for you to understand that it could be painful to her to have you cheating on her.

    She wasn’t cheating since the two of you were separated at the time but the time you were on the internet chatting and getting attached to other women was a betrayal of the marriage. If you had spent that time helping with the kids and home and talking with your wife you would have helped pull the two of you closer together. When you chose to spend your time separately, chatting, you chose to turn your energy out of the marriage and marriages fail when someone is outwardly focused.

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    • avatar

      Kate May 15, 2017, 10:01 am

      Yeah, I’m also having a hard time seeing the “we both cheated” thing here. HE cheated, by chatting and presumably meeting up with women, and leaving the marriage three times to pursue other sex. The third time he left, she dated another guy. How is that cheating, other than in the sense that you’re still legally married?

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      • avatar

        Tzvifl3 May 16, 2017, 10:46 pm

        Um, I don’t think you can assume these things.

        He says he chatted with other women while they were married and together, he doesn’t say he met up with them, but admits what he did was cheating. He also does not say whether he left when they broke up, or she left or she kicked him out, or why.

        I get that this guy is not all that sympathetic, but I think its not helpful to make up a story about what he might have done and present it as if is established fact when this is not what it says in the letter at all. If you think this is what really happened, it would probably be better to say something along the lines of “Here’s what I think really happened….”.

        By the way, Wendy gave a wonderful answer, I thought, one of her best. It may not help this person, but there’s no need to turn the LW into a cartoon villian by adding stuff not in the letter unless you have a broader point other that “I really dislike this LW.”

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      • avatar

        Kate May 17, 2017, 5:19 am

        Guessing you’re the LW?

        Let’s recap. “He” said he started by chatting with other women, and left out whether or not he met up. I “presumed” he did. Then, he left the marriage three times and was with other women every time, which he considers cheating. After all the chatting and *three rounds* of the husband leaving her and being with other women, she dated someone. Hard to see equal blame there, especially when she’s caring for two young kids.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom May 17, 2017, 9:54 am

        I don’t think anyone is making him into a cartoon villain. There is nothing cartoonish about seriously damaging your marriage by spending your time online instead of in person with your family and then breaking up three times and seeing women while broken up. He seems to be the one pursuing outside sex because it was only during the third breakup that the wife also dated and had sex with a man while he was doing it each time. I don’t see any reason why his wife should expect things to improve. He is constantly turning out from the marriage rather than focusing in on the marriage and family. He has emotionally damaged his wife and his children and harmed his marriage to the point it likely won’t last. There is nothing cartoonish about any of that. These are real lives, of people he says he loves, that have been seriously, negatively impacted by his personal choices. His personal choices reflect his self-absorption. He is so focused on himself he can’t feel empathy for the pain and emotional damage he causes his own loved ones. That isn’t very loving and it is terribly emotionally unhealthy for his wife and kids.

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  • avatar

    Brenda Jhonson May 31, 2017, 2:01 pm

    he was already diagnoised with cancer before i left the states,but i had to make sure i help the world and save it that time so i made the decision to fight the terrorist at iraq to save life but suddenly enough he coudnt survive it and was dead before i came back to the states,its a sad story,i always blame myself for not staying by him
    but here on kenya deployment i met a female military friend and told me about pof that was why i signed up and was interested in your profile maybe i can be happy again as you both similar face and the way you text me

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  • avatar

    Thiago Fraga June 20, 2017, 9:16 pm

    Hey dude! So, you said, in your post, that you have repented and realized that your wife is a wonderful person. If you really think so then you should treat it the best you can. Be affectionate, considerate and make her think you are wonderful too, but first of all you should call her to talk and apologize for her mistakes, this will be the first step to regain her. Do not give up and run after it as much as you can, just do not chase it literally.

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  • avatar

    talyssonkhs June 21, 2017, 5:04 pm

    Hi dear, theoretically there is a way to work through this, if you’re both very committed and you’re willing to see a lot of a couple’s therapist to get to the bottom of your issues, figure out each other’s needs, supply those needs, rebuild trust. But think bout it, you two have separated and gotten back 3 times, don’t you think its time to move on and try to find another person for each of you? But if you really want to try to make thing work out, you both have to work on finding other sources of support and outlets for your stress besides each other and extramarital affairs. And you said in your post that your wife is a wonderful person, than if you think like that, go to her, talk to her, say you love her and you want her back in your life, oh and don’t forget to apologize with her, this must be the primordial thing to this gets right. If I helped you ill be so happy, because marriage its something so difficult to deal with.

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