I fully expected my wife to stay in our old flat and carry on her affair, but she knocked on the door to our new house the next day and wanted to talk it out. To make a long story short, she seduced me, and I forgave her. That’s been a feature of our marriage ever since. Once she was forgiven for her affair, she went on to have many more without being secretive, and she eventually began to distance herself from our marriage. She would run off with a lover for a week, stay a month, come back for a few weeks, and disappear for half a year. Our children became resentful, and this kept her away more. The final straw was a two-week trip to Australia with a lover that turned out to be for two years. She eventually came back a year ago and has been remorseful ever since. She feels ashamed by her past behavior although exactly what that was, she won’t discuss.
I would like the fun, sexy wife back that I married a long time ago. She’s still a stunner, confident and charismatic, but she’s developed a hang-up about sex and won’t even discuss the matter with me. I would like to begin enjoying life to the fullest again. Don’t recommend therapy. That’s something she refuses to consider, but she does religiously read your advice. — Missing My Fun, Sexy Wife
Therapy is what you both need, but if she’s refusing to go, there’s no reason why you can’t seek it. You need it. You have a long history of enabling your wife’s chronic cheating and accepting her profound disrespect for you. And all the words you use to describe your wife here – “beautiful,” “sexy,” “fun,” “stunner,” “confident,” and “charismatic” – suggest either an inability on your part or a lack of interest in seeing your wife as a whole person rather than, you know, an object of desire or someone who’s a good time. I wonder what would change in your relationship if you could appreciate the less fun, the less sexy qualities and characteristics of your wife. What if you saw and heard her emotional needs? What if all this cheating has been a cry for help, a pursuit to be seen?
I don’t know if your relationship can be saved. Chronic cheating over many years is incredibly damaging. Failing to actually see – really SEE – each other after all these years is damaging. And seeking the fun, sexy wife you married 27 years ago as if all this life experience hasn’t changed her at all is… well, it’s weird. Wouldn’t you prefer a wife who, rather than be the “fun, sexy wife” she was in her youth, felt confident in the wholeness of who she is now after decades of life’s ups and downs? Isn’t that more interesting and fulfilling anyway?
Your letter is all about your wife and how her behavior has affected your marriage, and I get it. Her behavior was deeply hurtful. But she’s only half of this marriage, and if you want the marriage to continue, you have to assume responsibility for your part in the state of your marriage. There was a reason your wife sought the attention of other men (or women too?); as a husband, it’s your job to learn what those reasons are and how you can support your wife going forward and meet the needs she must have felt you weren’t meeting before. I say this not to absolve your wife of her indiscretions – a word that doesn’t seem *enough* to describe leaving her family for years with no explanation; she’s guilty of a lot here. But she’s not the one writing to me, you are, and you are part of the marriage, too – a marriage you say you want to save.
The marriage you had with a young, super fun, sexy wife is over, because that woman doesn’t exist anymore. You need to learn to love the woman your wife is now, and that has to start with learning who that woman is – the real wholeness of who she is – her fears and hopes and vulnerable spots and all the parts (not just the sexy ones) that make her uniquely her. If you aren’t willing to know the wholeness of her, you don’t really deserve the fun parts either. And if she isn’t willing to share the wholeness of who she is, she doesn’t deserve you. And, frankly, after all the cheating, if she can’t even drag herself to therapy to help save her marriage, I’m not sure she’s really all that interested in saving it. It’s possible that for as superficially as you see her, she sees you the same: as nothing more than a safe harbor she can escape to between the shipwrecks she keeps pursuing out on the seas. You both need to be willing to see and embrace each other’s broken parts while each working toward repairing the pieces that can be made whole. Without that, your marriage will continue to be a sort of superficial thing that brings neither fun nor true intimacy.