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 sexual relations 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 four children 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 twenty 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 twenty 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 twenty years.
It’s normal to go back and try and 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.
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 twenty 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 that requires his willing participation as you both work to create a new relationship based on truth.
Even though he has a long road ahead of him to restore trust, remember that the Atonement of Christ will restore your heart to feel peace and security again, regardless of what your husband chooses. Dr. Wendy Ulrich explains this beautiful truth in her book The Temple Experience:
How will we get back what we lost if we simply forgive? How can this be fair? In most cases, and certainly in the case of serious wrongdoing, those who have injured or robbed us are not in a position to restore what they have taken. They cannot make full restitution for our lost peace of mind, self-esteem, or sense of well-being. They cannot give us back lost trust, hope, or safety. They cannot restore our lost options or heal our worldview. So if the people who hurt us cannot restore these things to us, how can we ever get back what we lost? Christ assumes their debt to us, and we can then look to him for the healing, peace, security, hope, trust, well-being, and self-image he alone can restore. He is willing to take this debt if we are willing to release the original debtor to him to deal with on his terms and with his infinite wisdom and perspective on all the factors involved in their choices. We allow Jesus to deal as he sees fit with those who owed us, for now the debt is between him and them alone. We get out of the middle.
Your heart can begin to heal now regardless of your husband’s ability to tell the truth or care about your pain.Obviously, it will help if he’s remorseful and does everything he can to repent and provide restitution. Hopefully he can assist in your healing process by showing compassion and accountability for the hurt he has caused as you turn to God to bind up your broken heart.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday.You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St.
George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
CBMay 12, 2014
I read this column with the context of a similar article he wrote in mind, and I don't think the author implied that the wife should not trust the husband! It seems clear to me from the article that the trust needs to be rebuilt, not that it should never exist again. The memory of past question/answer sessions between the husband and wife are the root of the mental turmoil that she is experiencing. As he said, if she was told over and over that nothing had happened, she was lied to very directly, and that will take time to heal.
JCHMay 10, 2014
The husband made a very difficult decision to confess. Knowing the problem it now has caused shows just how difficult that decision was. You have know told her she should forgive but is justified in distrusting him until he can prove otherwise. Under these conditions, why would anyone confess. Should he have been advised to let sleeping dogs lie, since your wife will never trust you again? Don't call me I'll call you.