Will I Trust My Spouse Again?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dear Dr. Gunzburg

Child with cancer, marital affairs and other challenges. PTSD? Is my marriage doomed? Please help! I don’t know what to do. A brief (as possible) explanation:
*We’ve been married 16 years, have 3 children.
*Our oldest fought for nearly a year to beat cancer and almost lost his life.
*I’ve been stuck in the jobless category due to a work related injury that prevents me from returning to work (this drastically impacts my self-esteem). The system seems to desire I be left there indefinitely rather than allowing treatments. I have to fight for literally ANYTHING my Dr.’s request.
*There has been infidelity on both sides (her first if it matters).
*She has threatened divorce twice now against my adamant pleas not to. The latest was two years ago.
Our relationship began on infidelity. She was engaged to another man. I was with my high school GF of 3+ yrs when we met. I never intended on our relationship being permanent back then. But one thing led to another and we fell in love, had kids (this cemented our marriage into inevitability) and began our life together. Our marriage, by and large, was beautiful and happy. We never really fought. When we disagreed we were able to talk and figure out a compromise or one or the other would give in to the other. This “giving in” seemed to be in fair proportion.

Then, she had an affair. I was completely blindsided. I had no idea that she wasn’t happy. That is, until I found out. The first time she had an affair I was able to convince her to come back home and thought I had forgiven her. Her affair went on for 3-4mos. We seemed stronger after working through this challenge.

However, 7 years (itch) later; I started seeing red flags again. It’s worth noting that when she gets in this mindset, cheating and wanting to divorce, she is ruthless. Seemingly heartless. She says the most hurtful things and acts out the most offensive behaviors, going out of her way to let me know what she’s done. When I would talk to her about these red flags she would just get defensive and angry (another red flag, I know). This second time red flag occurrence, I suspect was due to the changes in MY behavior that my own recent (at that time) infidelity must have caused. She was not aware of this infidelity at that time though.

Mine was a brief period of cheating, 2-3 weeks, then terminated.

Nevertheless, she continued seeing another man (she still didn’t know of my infidelity at this point) while lying to me about it and accusing me of holding the past against her from her first affair any time I would question her behaviors. Basically, she was deflecting. During this time, she decided that she again wanted to divorce. Again, I vehemently argued against it, but she insisted and so began our separation. We separated for 7 mos. During this time, after about 4 mos. of fighting against her desire for divorce, I accepted what seemed inevitable. I gave up fighting for my marriage, accepted that it was over and started finding my new normal…my new happiness.

I gave up on her and my marriage and started spending all of my free time with another woman. I fell in love with this woman and committed to her that I’d be hers. Countless times she’d ask me what I’d do if my wife changed her mind and asked me to come back home. I was very deliberately hesitant to commit to this new love because of this possibility. Eventually though, again, I gave up on my wife/marriage. This brought my wife great relief at the time.

My wife and I had all of the details of our divorce agreed upon and at the last minute, just before signing papers, she asked me, “What am I doing?” I was furious! I asked her, “What the hell do you mean ‘What am I doing?’!! You’ve been telling me for all these months to move on and let you go! I’ve done that! Now, I’ve got someone else’s heart tied up and you want me to break HER heart too?!? Nevermind my own!?!”

I took some time (a couple weeks) to think about where to go from here and ultimately decided to give my marriage another chance. She was overwhelmingly embarrassed and apologetic of her actions and swore never to do this again. That is, never cheat again and never threaten divorce again. I’d heard this all before though, the first time she cheated.

I think you’ll understand why it’s so hard to trust in this apology and commitment again. I had lost all trust in her. More importantly, I had lost ALL romantic feelings towards her. I had given my heart to another.

The main reason I came back home was for the sake of the children. I know…that is never advisable. My reasoning behind it was that staying together for the kids’ sake, if successful in reconciling the marriage, may prove in the end to be what in fact WAS better for them. I’d done mountains of research on the effects of divorce on the children.

We’ve been back together for over a year now and my feelings toward her are still suffering. I find her attractive, but I’m not attracted TO her, if that makes any sense.

All of the things that used to annoy me about her now make me angry.

I’m lonesome in my own home. I’m always short with the kids and anger too easily. I want to be a GOOD man. Despite my naïve “forgiveness” of her first affair, I obviously still had some unresolved issues with it. But I believe that I’ve been a good husband and an excellent father, barring of course my cheating.

I love spending time and playing with my kids. I don’t hang out in bars. I don’t yell at my family. If I have a concern, I carefully analyze whether it’s my OWN issue or something I need to address with her. When I DO address her, I do it carefully and respectfully. Giving in to my weakness and cheating on her, I recognize, is likely what pushed her in to this most recent affair. I take all due blame for my role in this situation.

But blame is not my worry any longer. I know there’s plenty of blame to go around. I don’t want to hurt her. I don’t want her to suffer in any way. However, I know she’s not getting what she needs OR deserves from me right now, nor am I. I try to make her feel pretty, appreciated and desired, but I know my heart feels otherwise.

Furthermore, I know that eventually, if my heart doesn’t change, it will manifest in hurtful, destructive ways for her or me or both.

I gave my heart to someone else.

I was hopeful that I could change this, but almost a year later, I still desperately miss that woman and am afraid of a life wondering what could have been.

In the spirit of full disclosure, in an effort to get the most effective and honest advice, I have contacted the other woman twice since coming back home. Once was innocent enough in motive, but it DID lead to non-innocent behaviors. My wife is aware of this. That event happened very early on in the termination of our separation. The second contact was a letter to her to hopefully bring some closure. Basically, telling her goodbye “for good”. She has never been the one to reach out first and seemed almost annoyed both times I did.

My wife is NOT aware of the last contact with her. This second communication was about 6mos ago. I’m afraid that my wife will go “red flag” again and can’t seem to trust her claims that she won’t. I’m afraid of a marriage that lacks the emotions that she and I BOTH need in order for it to be successful.

I’m afraid of the example we’re showing the kids.

I’m a Christian and as such, I’m opposed to divorce if at all possible. But I also don’t believe that my faith would require either of us to live in a marriage that lacks the essential components to permit a happy life.

How do I let go of the idea of the other woman? Am I still in love with HER or just the IDEA of her? How do I CHOOSE to be happy in the here and now? I’m not one to live in the moment. I try to make the RIGHT decisions and do the right thing ESPECIALLY when it’s the hardest thing to do. I thought coming back to my marriage was what was right. But having fought for a year to grow back into some semblance of a marriage, it still often feels hopeless. It’s heartbreaking to think of the resulting scenarios either way I would choose.

Is this just PTSD from a marriage overrun with challenges?

Is it normal for a marriage to struggle so violently and so frequently?

Will I ever trust her again?

Please help!

Lost in the Midwest, USA

-Will I Trust My Spouse Again in Midwest, USA

Dear Will I Trust My Spouse Again,

Wow, you have a lot of issues built up over years.

You’ve given me many details and I hope readers of my responses read your situation first.

There’s little to be gained in going over mistakes from your first date and through the earlier part of your marriage. Let’s go over your situation as it exists most recently and continuing forward.

Regarding the influence on your children: if they experience your sniping at each other and arguing within their sight or hearing, or you and your wife acting angry or disrespectful, then yes, there will probably be a negative impact on your children. If, however, they have seen these negative energies and behaviors between you and then you turn your relationship around to be loving and adoring, imagine what messages that could send your children about people, relationships, and marriage.

But, that’s not your situation or you wouldn’t be writing to me.

I understand you are frustrated and distraught at the very least and probably feeling hopeless that anything can or will change. Yours is a tough situation, but not PTSD. It is “normal,” but not the only pattern, for a troubled marriage to experience frequent struggles and arguments including yelling and put-downs.

Even with all your details, I still have only the “tip of the iceberg” of your thoughts and actions. If there is hope for you to have a happy marriage again, you have to examine and learn to manage your thinking. Your thinking is your best chance for changing your feelings. This includes creating a re-attraction to your wife.

Some of the changes in thinking would probably require you to be trained because some of these changes are counter-intuitive and it is easy to talk yourself into the problem thinking again without a trainer coaching you through the difficult parts. You would also need this professional therapist to be committed to saving your marriage because therapists are people, too, and, without sufficient experience in saving difficult relationships, they too can get discouraged.

Trust is a different matter. You will never again have a pristine relationship. With that as a given, if you both are authentically doing the “work” of putting your relationship together, trust will most likely return for most of the time and stronger than you could probably imagine at this point in time. I say, “most of the time” because even then you will probably have occasional reminders that could precipitate a temporary relapse.

I wish you all the best in whichever choice you make.

Frank Gunzburg, Ph.D.

If you want to work with me, I offer marriage counseling in Maryland, to couples from all over the world. I am intentionally out-of-network for all insurance plans. My fees are based on $260 per hour, with a 45 minute session costing $195. I also have self-help programs available.