Twice Betrayed and Having Second Thoughts

Dear Dr. Deb

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t make decisions lightly. Once I’ve made up my mind, I can’t be convinced otherwise. So when I decided to enlist in the Air Force to serve my country in Afghanistan, neither my mother nor my wife could change my mind.

Several years ago, sometime after my discharge, I discovered that my wife was having an affair with her colleague. She ended it, and after much coaxing on her part, I put my ego aside and agreed to give our marriage another shot. It sounds cliché, but I made that decision partly because I was worried how the divorce would affect our three young children.

My one condition was that if she had another affair, divorce would be non-negotiable.

To my great disappointment, I recently found new emails from her lover that showed that she hasn’t learned her lesson. This time, I’ve decided to move out of the house.

Of course, neither me nor my wife are perfect. We certainly had our fair share of issues before her infidelities. It seems that I’d become too self-absorbed, insensitive, and prone to rages. I’ve often been isolating in my home office which has become my sanctuary away from her and my family.

But here’s where things get even more complicated. During our separation, my wife and I have continued having sex and seem to be enjoy each other’s company again. We’re even managing to co-parent peacefully.

WTF is happening?

In my heart of hearts, I believe that I need to be firm about my choice to leave the marriage. My mother supports this decision, and I know where she’s coming from: I’ve witnessed her agony and eventual recovery over my father’s philandering and their inevitable divorce.

If I stay in my marriage, I’m not sure I’d get over the feelings of resentment and shame. On the other hand, my wife and I seem to be in a good place. So I’m wondering now: Am I being too rash and ego-driven about wanting a divorce?

Twice Betrayed

Dear Twice Betrayed,

When your wife cheated, she betrayed your trust by breached the agreement you thought you both were living by. To make matters worse, she cheated on you for an extended period.

It’s true that we inevitably lose the ones we love, either through death, divorce or disaster. This loss is always accompanied by grief and the many emotions that chaperone it.  

Years ago, I grappled with grief when my own marriage cracked open one sunny afternoon. After my husband left, I finally understood just how feasible it was that someone could die of a broken heart. The pain brought me to my knees. 

Going through that savage emotional journey, my thoughts always circled back to, “I don’t want to feel this pain anymore.”

Separation and divorce often lead to turbulent waters. But judging by your letter, it seems that you aren’t even going through these complex emotions yet. In fact, it sounds like you’re stuck in the middle, “letting go” and “holding on” at the same time, bypassing your feelings – and their potential resolution – in the process. 

You may be on to something, though. It might be wise to weigh your decision a little longer before standing firm.

Ask yourself: Are you sleeping with your wife because you don’t want to be alone, or do you still genuinely want to be with her?  Is your marriage necessarily doomed because your wife cheated on you? 

I think you’re more uncertain and conflicted about getting divorced than you realize. You ask if your ego is blinding you or if it’s your mother’s opinion prodding you on. If only you didn’t have such mixed feelings, you could rely on your usual stubbornness to come through. But your continuing sexual involvement with your wife suggests you’re still very emotionally entwined. 

Your immediate task is to work through and accept your contradictory feelings before making a final decision. 

Couples in crisis may overlook that infidelity doesn’t always mean the end of a marriage. For some couples, the affair becomes a transformational experience and catalyst for renewal and change. As someone who has gone through a similar dilemma, I advise you to take your time before finalizing this life-changing decision.

Dr. Deb

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