In my experience, my wife and many of her friends, who are also betrayed wives, have taken on the expectation of perfect behavior as the bar that they are looking for in their marriages. She outlines what that bar might look like, but, as I move closer to it, she moves the goal posts down the field.

Since she discovered my double life, she’s now discounted all the feelings she thought I had for her, believing I was just gaslighting her, that it was all a lie. So, there’s no anchor, no good place to go back to in our healing. Because she’s so frightened of wanting to move forward and trying to build a relationship (or rebuild one, as I see it), she uses a strategy she’s learned from the other betrayed women in her support group. Any attempts by me or the marriage therapist we saw a few years ago to convince her to seek some trauma therapy have been unsuccessful. She says, “I’m not the sick one, YOU are.” Getting to something resembling a level playing field for our relationship is not happening either.

I am no saint, nor am I likely to ever become one. But I have embraced the 12-step program I joined almost 10 years ago, and the therapy work, and I have been sober since that first meeting. I fill my life with wonderful sponsees, with fellowship, with sharing my experience, strength, and hope at conventions. It’s a wonderful life, really. And much of the time, we have a non-aggression pact here. But when she hurts me, either by her breaking agreements, or by her careless and hurtful behavior to me with respect to my children, and I cry out in pain, or even get angry at what she’s done. She refuses to own her part in it or to make any real attempt to make amends. She complains that “I’m telling her how she should act.” Often when we try to have conversations around these behaviors, she shuts down, closes her ears, and stonewalls.  I’ve repeatedly asked her when she’ll be prepared to continue this important conversation, and most of the time, it never happens.

Any constructive ideas would be helpful. I love my wife, I want to stay with her, live out my life with her.  I am learning to live along in a house with a roommate, but it’s not my wish for the future.


I think it’s great that you’ve had almost ten years of active recovery work and found healing through your individual efforts. However, as you’ve outlined, repairing a relationship isn’t as straightforward as directing your own personal healing. Your wife has a different story that not only involves you, but also involves her history, temperament, social environment, and other influences. Let’s talk about what you can do to continue promoting relational healing.

First, it’s important to recognize that your commitment to her doesn’t mean you need to be diminished as a person. Many individuals who seek relationship recovery erroneously believe that they deserve a life sentence of being treated as a second-class citizen by their injured partner. Even though there is certainly a critical time period in early recovery where it’s important to prioritize and triage the wounds caused by the betrayals, long-term relationship healing can’t ultimately happen if one person remains in a one-down position.

Working toward equality and partnership in a wounded marriage doesn’t erase the reality of the damage that was caused. In fact, when couples deeply heal, the individual who broke the trust is fully committed to a lifetime of accountability through compassion and lifestyle changes. Their life is a living amends to the damage they’ve caused.

There is no set timeline on this delicate balance of tending to the wounded partner’s needs while working toward relational healing. It’s common for the betraying partner to become impatient and anxious early in the process because the pain of the wounded partner is difficult to tolerate. They set covert contracts in their minds that make the relationship transactional. In other words, when they feel like their efforts aren’t winning over the trust and affection from their betrayed partner, it feels unfair to them and causes deep resentment.

Be careful of the blame that appeared to be seeping through in your language. I hear you that you’ve been working your recovery for the past 10 years. That’s a long time and your wife is clearly still suffering. I don’t minimize how difficult this is for both of you. However, it’s impossible to truly measure the depth of suffering and pain we cause other people. All we can do is stay in compassion for the harm we’ve caused, even if they can’t a find a way to move forward with us. You can do this regardless of your marital status with her.

However, you’re choosing to stay with her even though she’s not able to move forward with relational healing. Because of this, it’s important to embrace this choice and not fall into a victim stance, believing that she owes you something. She’s showing you what she’s willing to do right now. If you’re accepting that, then build a life around that reality.

You can hold compassion and accountability for how difficult it must be for her while you also honor your human right to not be subjected to abusive language or treatment. You can do this without becoming retaliatory, blaming, or passive aggressive. Your heart can break for the pain she’s experiencing while also keeping yourself intact so you can function in your other roles in life.

I don’t have a script you can follow to help her take a risk on the marriage. The Lord has given us principles, though, that can help guide your heart and behaviors as you interact with her. He encourages us to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge. He promises that these will enlarge your soul and help you avoid hypocrisy and guile.[i] Embracing these principles is the best approach for staying out of victim thinking, blame, and resentment.

I don’t know what influence looks like in your marriage, but I do think it’s healthy to continue to express your desire for unity and partnership. Instead of pushing for an outcome, see if you can seek to better understand what she’s been through in your marriage and other relationships. Intimacy shows up ways we often don’t expect. If she’s willing to take a risk and show you her pain, that’s intimacy.

Obviously, you can’t change your wife, but you can allow yourself to be changed. You can have an enlarged capacity for compassion for her and others you’re called to serve. When you’re feeling worn down, take care of your physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs. Even though you’ve made serious mistakes, you’re still deserving of care. She may not be willing to provide comfort to you, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com

If broken trust is an issue in your relationship, download Geoff’s FREE video series “The First Steps to Rebuilding Trust” to help you begin healing:

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About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.


The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.

[i] D&C 121:41-42