Relationship Connection: My husband revealed a 20-year-old secret

Question

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.

Answer

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.

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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15 Comments

  • David Dalley May 7, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I can heal you. I’m an emotion code healer. I can heal you over email

    • Fulton May 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      How about texting or Facebook? Or would using all three at once guarantee the results?

    • jasmine March 20, 2018 at 9:55 pm

      Can you help me? How do you heal?

  • JOSH DALTON May 7, 2014 at 11:36 am

    The question that needs to be asked and never is….why did the husband have to go elsewhere for affection? His decision to cheat was not made overnight. I say this because I have been in the same situation. More than once. So the wife and I dragged another woman in the mix. Well the itch I had was scratched. Knowing that my wife made the decision on her own to have a threesome made it even better. Now we are honest with our feeling towards each other when it comes to temptation. I think every wife should give this gift to their husband if a issue has come up. This is especially important if one of the parties have “fallen out of love” spice it up a bit and your husband or wife will not cheat! keep the relationship fresh and exciting. Don’t just go hiking at Zions, that’s not freaky enough.

    • Accept it May 7, 2014 at 11:46 am

      Like the slogan goes, why just have one.

    • Brian May 7, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t have children. As for the “have to go somewhere else”, have you ever heard of self-discipline? Not all itches have to be scratched, you know? Or should everyone that is attracted to young kids just stop fighting those urges and scratch away?

    • Joanna May 8, 2014 at 12:40 pm

      What you need to do is have a nice revenge romp with the mailman. That’d fix his little red wagon!

      Just kidding. Don’t do that.

  • Accept it May 7, 2014 at 11:45 am

    I’ve heard comments that extramarital affairs are common occurrence in southern Utah despite the denial of such behavior. Seems like you proved it with the suspicion of an affair, the denial and then finally the revelation of there actually was an affair. Maybe a church leader will tell him to give X amount of money to the church, say a few prayers and all will be good. Or you could go have 20 affairs, one for each year he denied his affair.

  • Hatalii May 7, 2014 at 11:48 am

    There are only two reasons that he would “confess” after all these years, and neither one of them are honorable. Either he wanted to make himself feel better, no matter the cost to you, or he wanted to hurt you terribly.
    Whichever one it was, do you really want to spend the rest of your life with this jerk? What else has he done, and what else is he going to do, to abuse you. Because that is exactly what this is. Abuse. Not all spousal abuse is physical, and what you have experienced here is extreme mental abuse.

    • Brian May 7, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Or he’s trying to be a better man and put the past behind him, and wants to be closer to you and God and the only way is to stop lying about the past?

      • Bull Lony May 7, 2014 at 5:05 pm

        Bull. Dude’s getting old and probably feeling guilt trip and worrying about his own eternal afterlife. If he confesses, when he dies maybe he’ll go to his own planet heaven where he’ll have lots of concubines, I mean, spirit wives. Doubt it’s for her. It’s all about him.

  • Tina Forsyth May 7, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    I love your articles, Geoff, but you sure attract a lot of trolls in your comment section.

  • Roland May 8, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Monogamy is a disease. It is not normal. It is indoctrinated into people by a prudish, puritanical, superstitious religious society. Sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy are discrete aspects of human relationship. He didn’t walk out on you, did he. It’s called perspective. Get some. Your husband … some chick he met 20 years ago. Obviously it didn’t mean anything because he is still with you and not her. He didn’t rob a bank or kill a class of school kids. Get over it.
    Ed. ellipsis.

    • Bull Lony May 8, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Get over it by going out and getting some yourself. Maybe he’ll understand.

  • BSMETER May 8, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    S…* or get off the pot lady. The guys a liar. Always will be.
    *Ed. elipse

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