Relationship Connection: Coping when infidelity hits close to home

Question:
My wife recently had an affair with an extended family member on my side of the family. She ended the affair and we’re working on saving our marriage. In the meantime, however, the family member hasn’t told his wife and we will most likely run into them at family gatherings. Should we tell his wife? I feel like we have this big secret in the family. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Do you have any suggestions to help us deal with this ongoing problem?

Answer:

Despite the trauma of the betrayal you described, I’m encouraged by the fact that you’re going to work on saving your marriage. However, I certainly can see how painful and complicated the affair fallout is for your family.

The first thing to keep in mind is that your only responsibility is to your own marriage and children (if you have any). Even though this family member is apparently keeping his wife in the dark, all you can do is worry about healing your own marriage.

Even though your wife has ended the affair, I believe it’s important to present a united front to the other family member. This can be done in several ways. The method I recommend is to place a joint phone call to this family member and let him know that you are both going to work on saving your marriage. Let him know that there will be no further contact between him and your wife.

You can also tell him that you will both attend family functions but that you’ll both be keeping your distance for the time being. You can also encourage him to open up to his wife and work on fixing his damaged marriage. However, this can be nothing more than encouragement, as he is ultimately in charge of how he deals with his own marriage.

I recommend keeping the conversation short, respectful, and firm. Let him know that you’re not sure how this will affect the relationship with him, as it’s all so new. If you feel that there are things he can do to help further heal the situation, this is an excellent time to request them.

I don’t recommend making any promises about how things will be with him and his family. It’s so hard to know what will happen in the future. He may tell his wife and work on rebuilding trust with her and with the two of you. Or, nothing may change and it will be best for you and your wife to keep healthy boundaries with him.

Regardless of what happens, you and your wife will benefit from seeking help for the damage caused by the affair. It’s always a good idea to speak with a marriage counselor who specializes in helping couples heal from infidelity. You can also pick up a copy of “Getting Past the Affair” by Synder, Baucom, and Gordon. This will give you and your wife a clear roadmap for navigating the terrain of healing from infidelity.

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. Please send questions for future columns to: geoff@lovingmarriage.com. Geoff maintains a blog and article archive at www.geoffsteurer.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/geoffsteurer.

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