I have been married for 20 years, and the majority of them have been unhappy. My husband has been controlling and unloving. And we have two adolescent children.
Recently, a very good friend confessed his feelings for me. I, too, had the same feelings for him. Over several months, we tried desperately to break our relationship off and go back to our spouses.
Finally, after months of struggle, we both separated from our spouses. We then both told our spouses about the affair, and several days later I told my children about it.
After struggling with this for so long, I believe that I must move forward. I would like to have a calm settlement, if possible. My husband is very hurt and will not speak with me. Some people feel that he needs time to process this, and I am trying to give him space. I just feel like I am rubbing salt into his fresh wounds. How can I approach this matter?
Also, and most important, my youngest has been very quiet lately and will not express her feelings about the situation. She just says that she is fine. I don’t think she is, but I cannot get her to talk about it. What can I do?
Please help me because I just feel that I cannot get a hold of this situation.
You probably feel this way because things may feel a bit out of control for you. My hunch is, on one side, you’ve got these big positive emotions of hope and promise, while on the other, you are facing a devastating loss.
Throughout history, we have struggled to balance our heads and hearts. And sometimes it feels impossible.
I assume that you have tried for many years to make this marriage work and have longed for a loving relationship all the time. And I trust that you have lived all these years trying to do the right thing. Now, out of nowhere, someone expresses those emotions you’ve been longing for, and your heart flies open.
I’m sure many people reading this have passed judgment by now, but I have been told by people in your position that staying in a marriage like yours feels like a kind of death.
A naturalist once said that, in nature, there are no rights and wrongs, only decisions and consequences. You have made the decision to follow your heart. As a result, you have caused pain to your husband and perhaps injury to your children.
At one point, your husband’s anger and confusion may dissipate, and we all hope he will find peace, if not forgiveness. I’m sorry he has been hurt, as I know that pain.
But I’m not worried about him. Your young children have just learned that their mother has pursued her heart at the expense of their family. And she has been unfaithful to their father.
Your children are probably angry, confused and scared, as they have just heard some horrible news. And when great emotions well up like this, their instinct may be to take sides and protect their father. That may be their only way to gain a semblance of security in the short run.
Please don’t explain yourself to your children or try to have them forgive you. Your job is not to have them understand you, but for you to understand them. This will be painful for you, but you must be able to hear their rage and hurt. And you must own responsibility for the harm you have caused them.
Please don’t force them to talk. If they are unwilling to open up, just keep loving them for as long as it takes for them to return to you.
Children are injured by divorce. No mental-health professional I know denies that. But no one knows the long-term consequences of what’s happened to your family.
Your children could grow up bitter and distrustful of intimate relationships, or they could, over time, see that their mother had the courage to pursue a loving intimate relationship. Time will tell.
You know that my mantra is dialogue. But in a situation with this much emotion and injury, I suggest the four of you have a few sessions with a family therapist. Not for healing, but to say goodbye to this family structure in a way that will help everyone mourn. Because, no matter what, you all must say goodbye to what you once had.
Please be patient because the deeper the wound, the longer the healing process. I hope what I’ve said is helpful. I know it’s painful.