Relationship Connection: My husband has died, how can I get past his affair?

Question

I am still in pain from an affair my husband had 34 years ago. He never talked about it, as he was too ashamed of his actions. He has passed away now and the affair is all I can think about. When he was alive, I did not think about it much. I don’t know how to stop the pain of these unwanted memories. What can I do?

Answer

It’s too bad your husband didn’t work with you while he was still alive to heal the damage caused by his affair. You are trying to heal from two betrayals. The first betrayal is the affair. The second betrayal is leaving you alone to silently deal with the pain of the affair. You might find the second betrayal to be more painful than the first, as isolation is one of the worst experiences we can have as humans.

However, even though he avoided facing the truth of his choices doesn’t mean you can’t heal from the residual pain. There are two things you can do today that will begin to help you heal from this betrayal.

First, you can face the truth of your marriage and recognize that you don’t need to run from it to have peace. Brene Brown, author of “The Gifts of Imperfection,” wrote:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Your husband hurt you deeply and this is now a part of your story. Trying to forget about it won’t work because it’s a chapter of your story and can’t be removed by simply wishing it away.

Instead, you can allow the pain of it to flow through you, recognizing that it will eventually subside. Although this will be something you reflexively avoid, it will hurt less than trying to suppress it. We are not built to suppress emotion. Let it rise and fall and trust that it will move through you.

I recommend you share and express these feelings with someone who knows you and your story intimately. If you don’t have someone in your life who can sit with you while you share and feel these things, carefully select someone you will share this with. You may have suffered for three decades in silence, but that’s not necessary anymore.

The pain of betrayal isn’t the only feature of this story. Anyone who goes through trauma also experiences growth. As you reflect back, see if you have changed for the better because of the betrayal. Did you develop into a more compassionate person for the pain of others? Did you discover something about yourself that you didn’t know was there before you learned of his infidelity? Did you form lifesaving connections with God or others? Did your husband learn some lessons from this and become a different person even though he couldn’t talk about it?

You can face the fact that this experience is more than just pain to be avoided.

Second, there is great power in surrendering things we can do nothing about. This is not a passive shoulder-shrugging hopelessness. Instead, it’s a firm commitment to let go of something you cannot control. You’re not surrendering it to forget it. You are surrendering it to acknowledge your inability to change it.

Most people find that surrendering it to a higher power, such as God, helps them know it’s being placed somewhere where it will be acknowledged and healed. Some people find it helpful to write down words that describe their experience and then put them in a container or burn them. Much like the formality of a funeral, we need rituals to help us surrender and give closure to our experiences.

Your husband made a relationship-changing decision that affected you deeply. You’re not a shallow person for struggling with this. You don’t have to fight the feelings of betrayal and suffer unnecessarily. Trust that your feelings will move as you open up and feel the full breadth of these emotions that this will give you the peace you’re seeking.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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8 Comments

  • DesertBill December 31, 2014 at 7:23 am

    “He never talked about it, as he was too ashamed of his actions. He has passed away now and the affair is all I can think about. When he was alive, I did not think about it much.”

    It’s too late for her, but others whose unfaithful spouses are still alive, it might be good to make the effort to talk about it. Help the unfaithful one who is “too ashamed” to talk about it to open up. It seems like one can make opportunities to do that in 34 years. Those conversations might avoid the after-death pain that afflicts this woman, and help the one who cheated to receive forgiveness.

  • redrock1 December 31, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Arguing with reality is in large part what causes very protracted suffering. One does not need months of psychotherapy to get better. Read the book Loving What Is by Byron Katie. The concepts are simple but also complex given the way we typically see the world and events. If you can embrace the ideas in the book it will help you to heal.

  • Koolaid December 31, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Well…. it’s too late to talk to him about. Kinda crappy that after 34 years with him, that’s how you remember him.

    • DanceDanceDance December 31, 2014 at 10:52 am

      More likely, she’s deflecting and avoiding the full pain of the loss by focusing on the lesser pain of the affair. I’ve seen others do the same thing- focus on arguments, mean things said, etc. rather than go into mourning. The mourning will come, her mind is finding a way to put it off right now.

  • Joe Smith December 31, 2014 at 11:36 am

    The bishop probably told her at the time to just pretend like the whole affair never happened and just get on with life and keep up the happy happy facade. All these years later and she’s probably going through withdrawls from all the religious brainwashing.

  • Joe Smith December 31, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Not even joking either. They let these “bishop” characters act as marriage counselors and more often than not they are telling people to just sweep issues under the rug like they don’t exist, pay the 10% and all will be well.

  • Just Me.... December 31, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    I like the advice about trusting the emotion to move through you, suppressing it is counterproductive and can be unhealthy. But, hanging on to the anger might be part of the grief counseling that needs to happen. Guidance through grief is helpful because it allows for release and support. Every hospice and hospital that I am aware of offers it free of charge. Insurance will typically pay for private counseling, although groups are probably effective as well. Anger is an intense emotion and tying it to an event so intimate between them might be avoidance related. She needs to find her own path through grief and the anger associated with the decades old affair will fade. I just looked up and saw that Dance wrote essentially the same thing….I agree.

  • cranky January 9, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    The problem isn’t what happened, who it was , or what he did. He’s gone. But your resentment of his action lives in your head. I am sure the quality of your life is suffering from the constant tape that plays in your head. When your ready to stop
    the tape, this is what you must do. Everyday for seven days in a row just after you get up in the morning, and just before you go to bed. With all the true sincerity you can muster , you must pray for him …. not a church prayer … nothing to do with yourself , for a least 5 minutes without stopping , if you get distracted do it “out loud”. Repeat it over and over , write it down and read it out loud if you forget,
    Even if you don’t mean it at first, say the words with conviction:
    something like ” I pray for George and all his happiness, I pray for George that he
    finds all his needs wherever he may be or has been. I truly give all my sincere hopes
    that George found what he needed when he broke our marriage vows. I sincerely
    pray that all his actions though out his life were good for him . Thank you George
    I only truly wish for your happiness and well being now and forever.
    If you do this faithfully for one week twice a day and really try to mean each word…. your resentment will be gone, and your life will be back.

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