My husband had an affair with a co-worker, and he got caught by her calling our house and leaving her makeup on the back seat of our car. He’s telling me he only kissed her.
We’ve been married 42 years and this happened 20 years ago. But one night this year he broke down and told me the truth that he did actually have sex with her. I always feared all these years that he was lying to me. It’s been three months ago that he confessed to me about having the affair and I can’t forget it. It hurts me that he could keep it a secret for so long after raising four children together and twelve grandchildren later.
Even though your husband did the right thing by telling the truth about his infidelity, healing from the impact of him lying to you for 20 years is no small thing. I hope he doesn’t believe that since he revealed his big secret that you should feel instant gratitude and immediate trust. Even though you eventually need to heal and move on, continuing the journey with him at your side means he needs to earn back your trust.
Not knowing what is real is terribly frightening. This is especially difficult when you sense the truth and you’re told things like, “you’re crazy,” “why won’t you trust me,” “let it go,” or other blocks to keep you out of reality. It is a deep wound to have your integrity called into question all of these years when you weren’t the one hiding the truth.
You’re not only in shock about the truth about his behavior 20 years ago, but you’re also trying to process how this guy could play the role of husband, dad, grandfather, and all-around-good-guy while deceiving his wife the entire time. The betrayal only took minutes. The lie about the betrayal was happening every moment of every day for 20 years.
It’s normal to go back and try to make sense of all of your memories to figure out how you could have shared your life with someone you thought you knew. This reprocessing is a slow and painful process that doesn’t happen in an evening or even a few months. Even though you may not leave the relationship, it’s normal to do some background processing in your head and heart over time as you put the pieces of the puzzle back together.
New York Times columnist Anna Fels wrote a piece on betrayal that clearly describes this difficult process for those who are thrust into a new reality when they learn the truth about someone they trusted. I encourage you to read her description of this process so you can normalize what you’re experiencing. You can open Fels’ article here: Great Betrayals.
Not only do you need validation that you’re not crazy, you also need a commitment from your husband that he will do whatever it takes to restore trust with you. This might mean going to counseling to help you learn how to trust again or answering questions you might have about his past. Rebuilding trust after such a deep betrayal is going to require his full and humble willingness to acknowledge the damage he’s done to your sense of security and trust in not only him, but also in humanity. It’s common to feel unsafe everywhere when the one place you thought you were completely safe turns out to be a lie.
Since he has the ability to keep a secret of that magnitude for 20 years after he insisted you knew the truth, recognize that this may be the tip the iceberg. He may see how you respond to this one piece of information so he can decide what else he’ll share. Make it clear that you fully expect him to tell you everything and not make you wait another twenty years for the truth.
You may feel you need to forgive him for keeping this secret from you all of these years. That frees you from holding him emotionally hostage and suffering from resentment and anger. This is something that usually happens before you fully trust him. Trusting him is a completely different process than forgiving; trusting requires his willing participation as you both work to create a new relationship based on truth.
- Great Betrayals by New York Times columnist Anna Fels
- Relationship Connection: How long is too long to struggle after my husband’s affair?
- Detective testifies woman made up rape to conceal affair, case proceeds to trial
- Perspectives: The greatest threat to marriage, loss of sanctity
- Relationship Connection: My wife won’t let me have a say in anything since I had an affair
- Lawmakers impose waiting period; can 90 days alter the course of a divorce?
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.
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