“How Can I Overcome My Wife’s Guilt Over Cheating on Me?”

I have been married for 27 years to a woman who grows more beautiful and sexy as time passes. After we had two children, my wife began a secretive affair with a wealthy married man that lasted ten years before I discovered her infidelity. I felt angry and betrayed and embarrassed that I was naïve enough to believe that her twice yearly holidays spent in the Caribbean or Italy with her lover were trips to see her mother in California. I was angry and moved out with the children to a different neighborhood the next day.

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.

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.

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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.


  1. LisforLeslie says:

    Not sure how old your kids are now but if they are minors, I hope you have them in therapy too. I can’t even imagine the damage that’s been done by being abandoned for two years let alone watching one parent repeatedly hurt the other parent.

  2. What are you getting out of your marriage at this point?

    I like and follow relationship therapist Esther Perel online, have read one of her books, and sometimes listen to her podcast. I believe one of her books is about infidelity, which may be of interest to you/your wife. One thing she says is that when you are married to one person for a long time, you will have multiple marriages with them. Because people grow and change. I don’t think you can have your “old” wife back. But if the “new” her is unwilling to do any of the work through therapy or even discussing things with you… what’s the point?

    I’ve never been married, but I’ve been cheated on a couple times by longer-term boyfriends. That shit fucking hurts! I can’t even imagine what it feels like when it happens in a marriage and I’m sorry she treated you this way. I think reflecting on how you have contributed to marital problems is good, but there’s no way I’d own any part in a partner’s decision to cheat. That part is on them IMO.

    Regardless of what happens in your marriage, I think individual therapy would be beneficial for you. And your kids.

  3. I agree with Copa’s comments. I would add that it must be awful for your kids that their mother picked random, many more times than once, over them. I think also that you should have not allowed her to continue to do that to her family. She learned she can treat you like crap and you will take it/her.
    I don’t think you are going to get the old, sexy wife back. And really I don’t understand why you would want to.
    She won’t go to therapy or take responsibility. She will likely “escape” again asd she always does.
    I looked again and saw that your kids became resentful of your wife’s ways…and instead of realizing how much she was hurting them, stopping or trying to make it up to them….she stayed away. Both you and your wife basically never properly deal with anything….avoid,avoid,avoiding .

  4. Another Jen says:

    You nailed it, Wendy! I’m generally not terribly sympathetic to cheaters, but this letter made me sad for both of them. It’s so weirdly superficial.

    LW–in describing your wife of 27 years, who you say you want to continue a relationship with, all you’ve got is “she’s hot.” You don’t say you love her. You don’t say you want to share family life together. You just want her to stick around and be more fun and sexy. If that’s the basis of your connection, it’s pretty thin.

    Do you want her to be more committed your family life with your children? If your children aren’t grown, it seems like that would be important. Is sexual fidelity something you’re worried about moving forward? Or, is an ethical, consensual open marriage an option as long as you get some of the fun, sexy time?

    And, what about you? Are you just the guy who looks after her children and holds down the fort so she has a crash pad between affairs? Or, do you have other stuff going on that fulfills you and brings you happiness? If not, it sounds like a pretty unhappy life…not one I’d be eager to come back and share.

    It seems like you both need to figure out what you want your marriage to look like for this chapter of your lives…otherwise, you’re in for more of the same. Your wife hanging around out of remorse and you hoping things will be fun and sexy again isn’t a good foundation for the future.

    You both deserve to be happy, but it’s going to take decisiveness and work. Good luck.


  5. I agree that you see your wife only as ‘hot’, don’t really understand her, and are willing to sacrifice all, including your dignity, to get a piece of that hotness.

    For her part, your wife is determined to live a life which your income can’t provide. You are her home pit stop where she can bunk between wealthy ( likely married) men. You have a sort of semi-official open marriage, in which your wife, after all these affairs, obviously has your tacit approval. If you can’t stand this arrangement, you need to MOA.

    P.S. You likely will need to MOA soon in any case — your wife is probably wise enough to know that she won’t be ‘super hot’ forever. She is looking for a rich guy to marry.

  6. PassingBy says:

    How do you find a place to live with two kids and move in a day?

  7. Ravenswing says:

    Aside from Wendy and all the other cogent comments, I’ve got one of my own to toss in. No, your wife HASN’T developed a “hang-up about sex.” It seems that she’s real willing to hop in the sack with all and sundry. It’s that she doesn’t want to have sex with YOU. (Heck, it’s obvious that she only comes back after her multi-month flings when her latest sugar daddy gets tired of her.)

    She keeps playing you, and you keep letting her … even now, you’re not looking for advice in how to get out of this flat-lined “marriage.” You’re looking for a Dumbledore to wave his magic wand and make your wife All Better And Sexy And Fun With YOU again.

    Dumbledore being a fictional character, that ain’t going to happen. But all the advice in the world can’t force you to take care of YOURself first. Whether your wife reads this column or not is as may be, but I predict you’re going to ignore all the advice, and keep crawling at this woman’s feet, hoping for something that will never, ever come.

    1. Ravenswing says:

      (My own wife’s encomium is GET YOURSELF TESTED!)

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